AMC’s Chief on Creating a Walking Dead Universe and Why Better Call Saul Is Skipping the Emmy Race

Charlie Collier says the network takes a ‘live-plus-365’ view of its shows

The Walking Dead, which returns Sunday, was last year's most-watched series in the 18-49 demo. Gene Page/AMC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Sunday will see the return of TV’s No. 1 show among adults 18-49, and no, we’re not talking about Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory, This Is Us or Sunday Night Football. Once again, the top series in TV remains The Walking Dead, which averaged a 7.0 demo rating last year in live-plus-7, putting it ahead of every scripted series on broadcast and cable.

As Walking Dead kicks off the second half of Season 8, AMC has unveiled plans to create an entire universe around the drama. Last month, the network renewed The Walking Dead for Season 9 and announced it was promoting showrunner Scott M. Gimple to chief content officer, and tasking him with overseeing the entire Walking Dead television franchise, including The Walking Dead and spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, while also creating brand extensions on various platforms.

For AMC president Charlie Collier (who also oversees AMC Studios, which produces Walking Dead, and SundanceTV), the decision to formally create a Walking Dead universe is part of the network’s shifting to a “live-plus-365” view of its content. That entailed looking at Walking Dead and its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead not just as series on the network, but as a universe—one that does not revolve around his network.

“The fans have become the center of the universe, and we rotate around the fans,” said Collier. “It’s only natural then to say, if we have this show about which so many people are passionate, how do we manage it in a live-365 universe? And the answer is, we treat it as part of something larger. So [last month’s] announcement formalized that thinking.”

As AMC expands the Walking Dead brand, Collier also has to determine how long the original series will run for. “It’s an art and commerce balance,” he said, noting that AMC now has three shows represented in the Smithsonian: Mad Men, Breaking Bad and last fall, Walking Dead.

“We used to talk about, you don’t try to replace Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Walking Dead. You try to elevate them so that they’re forever a part of your legacy. And you’d like it to go for as long as it is great storytelling, a good business and that it’s Smithsonian-worthy,” said Collier. “There will be an end date. We want to make sure when it ends, that we put it in the hall of fame.”

Walking Dead isn’t the only franchise whose future Collier is contemplating; he’s also overseeing AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul. While that series usually airs in late winter/spring, Collier said Season 4 won’t be ready until late summer, which means the series won’t be eligible for this year’s Emmy race (it received eight nominations last year).

That’s because Collier would rather give Better Call Saul creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan the time they need to craft a season that is on par with its predecessors. “They’re very aware of looking at the entirety of the seasons of Saul, all of the seasons of Breaking Bad, and making sure that they’re A, creating references for the fans that are beautiful gifts and B, they’re telling the story they want to tell,” he said. “They’re hitting their sweet spot, and there’s a lot more story to tell.”

Collier said now that AMC is more established as a creator of premium shows, he’s less concerned about making an Emmy splash than he was when the network was first trying to make a name for itself.

“We were an emerging brand and were trying to create HBO on basic cable. The awards really mattered a ton for us, and we would orient around them,” he said. But now, “we’re in that subset of premium brands. So I look at it and think, it should be on the air when they’re ready to have the story be on the air.”

Filling the void until Saul’s return will be a pair of new dramas: Russian mobster drama McMafia, which premieres Monday, and the network’s first anthology series The Terror, which debuts a month later on Monday, March 26. (If The Terror is renewed, Season 2 will feature a new storyline, actors and characters, à la American Horror Story, Fargo and True Detective.)

McMafia “is a project that because of the Russian news [with Donald Trump] it makes it relevant for all the reasons that you would expect, but also it’s a global thriller that has got scale and class,” said Collier. “It’s special.” So he’s going to make the entire eight-episode season available after Tuesday’s premiere to subscribers of AMC Premiere, the network’s ad-free tier, which costs $4.99 per month for Comcast XFinity and YouTube TV subscribers.

“That’s the first time we’ve done that,” said Collier. “We think the series is so good and there will be many people that want more, and AMC Premiere will have that.”

While AMC Premiere, which launched in June, has been “well received,” and Collier intends to expand it to other cable and satellite providers, he doesn’t see it ever becoming a direct-to-consumer option, allowing audiences to bypass cable or satellite providers.

“If you’re launching a service that is based on existing fans, putting it where the existing fans are as an upgrade option is a really smart thing to do,” he said. “We never built it expecting it to be our over-the-top service. In fact, I think it’s a nice way to remind operators that they have something really premium, and then offer fans the option to say you can take it the way you have it, and you can have it this way, your choice. And that’s a good thing.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.