AMC puts a rival’s Western back in the saddle

There’s no shortage of attention lavished on AMC’s original series, but the cable network recently made an unusual move on the programming acquisition front that’s noteworthy.
Intothewest Last Sunday, AMC began airing the miniseries “Into the West” at 8 p.m. as a lead-in to its original series “Hell On Wheels.” If “West” rings a bell, it’s because it first ran on TNT in 2005 with a $50 million budget and the backing of executive producer Steven Spielberg.

It’s rare to see a network license programming from a rival and reintroduce it given how sensitive cable channels are about diluting their branding. But Tom Halleen, senior vp of programming and
scheduling at AMC, believes the conventional programming wisdom was worth challenging when it came to providing a compatible lead-in to fellow Western “Wheels.”

“I don’t think viewers will look at it
and say, ‘Why is the TNT drama ‘Into The West’ on AMC?” he said. “I don’t think we’re borrowing another network’s brand, it’s about the show’s individual brand.”

The gambit worked: “Wheels” tripled AMC’s average primetime rating, reaching 1.7 million total viewers.

Halleen wouldn’t comment on how much it cost AMC to acquire “West.” The network is marketing the miniseries, which last aired on TNT in 2009, as an “AMC premiere.”

AMC has always had a soft spot for Westerns, having also licensed classic Western “Lonesome Dove” for its air. Before its slate of original series started clicking beginning with “Mad Men,” the network scored with its own original 2006 miniseries “Broken Trail,” which starred Robert Duvall.

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