Ratings not stellar, but Kinnaman cachet could benefit cabler

With the who-killed-Rosie Larsen guessing game now over, another mystery has enveloped “The Killing”: Will the show return for a third season?

AMC has never been quick to ax its shows early in their runs, with only the spy caper “Rubicon” getting canceled after one season. Clearly, there will be much debate at the net as to whether the Fox Television Studios-produced “The Killing” will live to kill again.

The Danish version, “Forbrydelsen,” on which “The Killing” is based, is currently in production, so if AMC execs want to mimic the fortunes of that skein, the template has been set. When trying to explain to viewers why the Larsen murder wasn’t solved after the first season, AMC — as well as series creator Veena Sud — were very quick to point out that “Forbrydelsen” took 20 episodes to unravel the whodunit.

From a ratings standpoint, AMC president Charlie Collier and exec VP of original programming Joel Stillerman withstood a barrage of negative press when season one ended. Following the controversy they braced for a ratings dropoff, which indeed came.

Since its April 2011 debut, ratings for “The Killing” have been trending down. The series opened with 2.7 million viewers before falling to 2.2 million for the season-one finale. Season two debuted to 1.8 million following the critical firestorm and ended at just under 1.5 million.

Those numbers are well below both the recent 2.6 million season average of “Mad Men” and the 2.8 million that first-year Western “Hell on Wheels” drew for its season-one finale.

So, from a ratings standpoint, there may be little reason to bring back “The Killing.” Also, there’s little chance that AMC would see a ratings reversal, with new fans coming aboard for the first time.

From a market share standpoint, AMC’s Sunday lineup is spoken for throughout the year, and the network wouldn’t absorb too much of a volume loss by cutting “The Killing” loose. Net has eight episodes of “Breaking Bad” set to run beginning July 15, and “Hell on Wheels” returns Aug. 12.

The cabler’s most popular skein, “The Walking Dead,” is in production and will launch its third season in the fall. Despite a showrunner shuffle that caused some angst both with viewers and on the set (Frank Darabont ankled and Glen Mazzara took over), there’s little reason to believe the series will be concluding anytime soon.

There are also plans for the future. Collier and Stillerman last month gave pilot orders to Chris Mundy’s “Low Winter Sun” and a project from Richard LaGravenese and Tony Goldwyn.

In making a case to renew “The Killing,” the show has two bona fide stars in Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman. Even when reviews were less than kind, critics usually pointed out the stellar work by the two thesps.

If the show is greenlit for season three, both would likely return, while most, if not all, of the remaining cast would be swept aside for a new plotline. On the fence could be Billy Campbell, who plays the newly elected mayor of Seattle.

Swedish native Kinnaman, in particular, has breakout potential and could be a drawing card for AMC as his movie career blossoms. His pic “Easy Money,” for which he won the Swedish equivalent of a best actor Oscar, is set to debut in the States in July, and he stars in sci-fi reboot “RoboCop,” a 2013 feature entry that is sure to gain plenty of traction among the fanboy set that helped propel films such as “The Avengers” to box office heights.

Both Kinnaman and Enos, according to sources, have holding deals with AMC that extend through the latter months of the year, so the cabler may be in no hurry to make a decision on the show’s fate.

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