From zombies to vampires, can AMC Networks still go it alone?

collage of Norman Reeus of “The Walking Dead” and Jacob Anderson of “Interview with the Vampire” with spatters in background
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Jace Downs / AMC; Michele K. Short / Sony Pictures Television / AMC)

Welcome to the Wide Shot, a newsletter about the business of entertainment. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Times film business reporter Ryan Faughnder is on paternity leave; Stephen Battaglio is filling in.

Starting this fall, AMC Networks is getting a programming transfusion.

The New York-based media company, long the home of “The Walking Dead” franchise, is taking its first bite into Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” series after acquiring the rights to 18 novels by the late author.


Based on the review episodes, the first Rice-based show, “Interview With the Vampire,” gives “The Walking Dead” a run for its money in gory special effects. There are graphic sex scenes and nudity as well. “It’s probably one of the more provocative projects we’ve ever done,” said AMC Networks entertainment chief Dan McDermott.

Having some shock value should help encourage sampling, which is what AMC needs. “Vampire,” which stars Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson, debuts on Oct. 2 and is expected to be a key driver in the company’s ongoing effort to transition into the streaming future while its traditional cable TV business is in decline.

AMC also is seeing the end of its 11-season hit “The Walking Dead,” although it has three spinoffs in the works that will employ some of the most popular stars from the series, including Norman Reedus. But the company believes having a new franchise based on Rice’s book titles, which have sold 150 million copies globally, can continue to make AMC a destination for genre fans.

The transition is happening at a volatile time in the TV business. Pay TV subscriptions continue to slide, while competition from deep-pocketed tech companies and larger media conglomerates intensifies. Wall Street analysts question whether AMC can grow its streaming business fast enough to mitigate the slow and steady erosion of its traditional TV business that all cable network owners are facing.

“While digital ad growth should help offset linear declines, we still do not know whether it will be enough,” said a recent report by MoffettNathanson. Many financial analysts have a neutral rating on AMC Networks’ stock, which is down 49% over the past year.

In the first quarter of 2022, the pay TV universe saw a net loss of 2.1 million subscribers. Ratings are declining as well, with time spent streaming surpassing cable TV viewing for the first time in July.

AMC’s channels have held up better than most. Second-quarter data from Nielsen showed its outlets averaging 316,000 viewers in prime time, up 8% compared to 2021, while the average of all ad-supported cable networks was down 10%. The network’s first-run original episodes were up 13% to 782,000.

It’s unclear whether the small but profitable AMC Networks can make it without being combined with or acquired by a larger company. But for now, AMC Networks executives are forging ahead as a stand-alone entity, adhering to the formula of critic-friendly adult cable TV dramas and niche streaming channels that complement subscriptions to larger services such as Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu.

“I see us very peacefully coexisting alongside any of those companies, and we’re not threatened by their size,” McDermott said. “Our value proposition is we only do one thing, which is premium, marquee content for adults.”


“Vampire” will air on AMC in a 10 p.m. time period and carry an MA-TV rating, but its intensity is aimed at drawing fans to the streaming service AMC+, where it will premiere the same night.

Two men walk down a street in a scene from “Interview with the Vampire.”
AMC hopes to lure Anne Rice fans and others to AMC+ with “Interview with the Vampire.”
(Alfonso Bresciani / AMC)

“We developed it knowing it has to work on our streaming platform,” McDermott said. “It has to be lush and decadent and all the things you know are true to Anne Rice’s books. We need to be offering content that is going to incentivize users to sign up and stay signed up.”

AMC is not waiting long to get a second Rice series up and running. Its TV adaptation of her “Mayfair Witches” trilogy will debut in the first quarter of 2023.

The cable programmer takes a niche approach to streaming as it tries to capture viewers who are leaving traditional TV.

Aug. 4, 2021

“We could have sat back and said, let’s see how ‘Interview With the Vampire’ performs and then we’ll make a decision on other series in the Rice library,” McDermott said. “But in this landscape, we’ve got to be aggressive. We’ve got to be confident about our ability to produce great versions of these novels.”

McDermott, a veteran executive with stints running DreamWorks Television and programming at Fox, has been guiding AMC’s streaming pivot since he joined the company in March 2020. He is ordering more series with shorter episode runs as streaming subscribers demand a robust variety of original offerings.

In 2023, AMC will launch 11 new titles, including “The Walking Dead” spinoffs. Other new entries include a prequel to the cult favorite “Orphan Black” and the drama “Straight Man,” starring Bob Odenkirk, coming off his successful run on “Better Call Saul.” AMC also will have five returning programs.

AMC will be flexible in where it presents its series. McDermott said shows could debut on AMC+ and later get a run on one of its cable channels. AMC Networks also has been aggressive in making its programs available on FAST channels (free ad-supported streaming television) carried by services such as Pluto TV and Tubi. The company has 13 such channels spread across a variety of services that don’t require a paid subscription.

“It’s an additional way for us to monetize our content,” McDermott said. “We can also incentivize audiences to come back and find us on AMC or AMC+.”

Along with AMC+, which has originals and series that air on the AMC network, the company’s streaming channels include Sundance Now, which carries films, dramas and true-crime stories; Shudder, for horror fans; IFC Films Unlimited, which focuses on independent movies; ALLBLK, dedicated to works from Black creators; and Acorn, which specializes in British dramas.

AMC expects to have 12 million streaming subscribers by the end of this year and is aiming to double that by 2025.

While AMC Networks is looking to grow, not being a corporate behemoth has its advantages for show producers. At a time when many are feeling trepidation over the uncertainty at the larger players in the TV industry, Mark Johnson, who ran the hits “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” and has been put in charge of the “Vampire” shows, likes what he calls the “intimacy” of the operation.

“Because it’s smaller, there is not an executive that I don’t know and don’t know pretty well,” said Johnson. “I can get Dan McDermott in 10 or 15 minutes. Elsewhere, there’s a lot of confusion. People are very worried about what companies are going to survive or be owned by somebody else tomorrow. Why not go where you have a sure hand and have encouragement?”

Stuff we wrote

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is hoping to jump-start the Oscars by hiring Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner as executive producers for the 2023 televised ceremony on ABC. Weiss, who has directed the telecast for the last eight years, and Kirshner are masters of the live TV event, including Super Bowl halftime shows and the Tony Awards. It’s a departure from the academy’s recent experiments using film directors and producers to handle the show. Josh Rottenberg has more details on what Bill Kramer, chief executive of the academy, is thinking about what’s next for the telecast.

Our awards maven Glenn Whipp was at the Toronto International Film Festival and ponders whether trophy-contending movies about the movies (there are a bunch, including Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans”) can get people back into the theaters again. Our movie team also offers a rundown of the 15 must-see films at the festival.

Number of the week:

five point nine million

Viewers for NBC’s presentation of the 74th Emmy Awards on Sept. 12, an all-time low. With so much programming splintering the audience, the ratings for the broadcast showed how there is no broad recognition of the shows being celebrated, making it an uphill climb for producers of the telecasts.

Catch-up reading...

The Academy’s Kramer also told reporters last week that he’d like to get beyond Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock, which became a national conversation during and after this year’s Oscar ceremony. Kramer doesn’t even want jokes about the incident on next year’s show (good luck with that). But there may be constant reminders of Smith, as Apple TV+ has his next movie, “Emancipation,” a $120-million Civil War drama that the tech giant envisioned as an awards contender. Nicole Sperling examined Apple’s “Will Smith problem” in the New York Times.

Rupert Murdoch owning CNN? The Divider, a new book from husband-and-wife Washington correspondents Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, says former President Trump told AT&T executives in 2017 they should sell CNN to Murdoch, who owns the right-leaning Fox News. According to the book, Murdoch called Randall Stephenson, then chief executive of AT&T, twice to say he was interested. Stephenson feared AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner would be blocked if he did not submit to Trump’s pressure. The Independent obtained a copy of the book before its Tuesday release and has details.

Films shoots

A chart showing the number film shoots in Los Angeles for the week of Sept. 12-18, 2022, compared to previous years.

Finally ...

It was odd to see some outlets report on CNN anchor Don Lemon’s pending move from prime time to a new morning show as a demotion. CNN Chairman Chris Licht made his bones in news as a morning show producer, and making Lemon, the network’s most versatile performer, the centerpiece of a high-profile revamp is a vote of confidence. But the mornings have always been a challenge at CNN, as viewers want local information and weather mixed in with their national and international news. It will be a major test for the new regime.

And Amazon executives are doing an end-zone dance over the premiere of “Thursday Night Football” on Prime Video last week. A memo from Jay Marine, vice president for Prime Video Sports, said Prime membership signups during the three-hour game were the most in the company’s history (Amazon did not disclose actual signup or viewership numbers).

While Nielsen ratings are expected on Tuesday, Marine said Amazon’s internal data indicates that the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers will exceed its internal expectations. The company reportedly guaranteed advertisers an average of 12.6 million viewers. Prime Video is paying $1 billion annually for the rights to the Thursday package over the next 11 years.