AMC Networks Entertainment Chief Dan McDermott On Navigating End Times For ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Better Call Saul’ And ‘Killing Eve’ And How He Competes With Bigger Rivals

AMC Networks studio and entertainment chief Dan McDermott said the company’s modest scale, multiplatform distribution and talent relationships have enabled it to compete against an array of deeper-pocketed rivals.

During a fireside chat at the company’s programming summit in Brooklyn, McDermott also addressed the end this year of longtime programming pillars The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul and Killing Eve.

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“Every great show, every great experience at some point comes to an end,” he said of the series finales. “We’re so grateful to have had these shows on our platforms. They helped define AMC as a home for premium content.”

McDermott said developing worthy follow-ups to that potent trio is simply “my job.” Assessing the development slate and library holdings when he started at the company in 2020, he said, was a helpful start, but even more determinate was the company’s decision shortly after his arrival to fully embrace streaming. With AMC+, Shudder, Acorn TV and other niche outlets, the company has focused on specific target audiences in streaming, but that narrowness is starting to accrue larger subscriber bases and will outdo linear in terms of revenue in the coming years. The company has said it will have between 20 million and 25 million streaming subscribers by 2025 and McDermott said the base will be 40 million to 50 million not long thereafter.

The interplay between shows designed for streaming (like Moonhaven on AMC+) versus larger properties capable of premiering across both streaming and linear (like Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire) offers increasing advantages, McDermott argued. Asked how he would define the AMC Networks of 2022, he described it as “a tech-forward, progressive series of platforms with real growth is in streaming” but one that is also “maintaining a vibrant linear platform.”

AMC Networks promoted McDermott last fall to his current position. During the session, he reflected on the various industry phrases and corporate configurations he has navigated during a 35-year career in the TV business, including stints at DreamWorks and Lionsgate.

As to how AMC Networks can continue to punch above its weight when it comes to competing for talent or pitches, he pointed to a few factors.

“We swim in this one lane only,” he said, referring to premium scripted fare for adults. “We’re small, we’re not overburdened with bureaucracy. I’m very reachable.” While high-end talent “loves to get the big payday,” he added, “as important as anything else, they want to produce great content.” Writers, directors and producers making projects at companies larger than AMC Networks can find it “very difficult to get traction.”

The company has also sought to deepen relationships with talent it has been in business with for some time. Case in point: Bob Odenkirk. The Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star is due to return to the fold next year in Straight Man, which traveled a speedy path to the air via a direct-to-series order earlier this year.

“The message we tell people,” McDermott said, is that “we don’t want to be a popcorn, disposable platform. … We want to make the show you’ve been trying to make for 10 years.” He cited Mad Men‘s Matt Weiner, The Walking Dead‘s Frank Darabont and Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan as exemplars of the latter description.

With so many distribution platforms available, AMC Networks uses a “bespoke strategy” with at least three or four different release models. Some shows premiere in linear before eventually making their way to streaming. Others take the reverse route, and still others take advantage of both as a simultaneous launch pad.

As far as what his programming signature will be as the company moves past some of its most iconic properties into the new era, McDermott mentioned Dark Winds, a thriller exploring an indigenous community which was his first greenlight. That series along with others due in 2022 and 2023, he said, comprise a “buffet of content that we can produce that’s all really different. … They’re different shows but they have similar DNA.”

Don’t expect the zombies to disappear once the mother-ship Walking Dead series (still the No. 2 total-audience draw on cable TV) signs off in November, McDermott said. Viewership data from AMC+, he said, shows that the property’s “core, passionate fan base is very much still engaged.” A burgeoning group of spinoffs, he said, “will satisfy the core audience and bring in new audiences” and the company is focused on finding ways to keep the property from feeling “overly familiar” to viewers.

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