Game of Arms Renewed AMC

AMC has scrapped plans for the second season of “Game of Arms” and the three new unscripted series it ordered in May as the cabler beats a retreat out of the reality genre to redouble its focus on scripted development.

“Comic Book Men” and “Talking Dead” are the only current unscripted shows that will continue as AMC pulls out of the genre to plow its resources into developing more scripted programming.

“Scripted originals are at the core of the AMC brand. Iconic shows like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ have driven AMC’s evolution into a must-have television network,” AMC said in a statement. “We are proud of our efforts in unscripted programming and the unique worlds we have been able to introduce, but in an environment of exploding content options for viewers, we have decided to make scripted programming our priority.”

The move amounts to a big about-face after AMC just last month renewed its arm-wrestling show “Game of Arms” and in May ordered three reality series: “All-Star Celebrity Bowling,” an untitled wrestling project produced by Billy Corgan and “Visionaries,” about a scenic design firm in Hollywood.

“4th and Loud,” a docu series about the Los Angeles arena football league team owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, is about to wrap up its initial run and will not be back.

AMC has at least eight to 10 execs overseeing unscripted development, headed by senior VP Eliot Goldberg. It’s not immediately clear what happens to them but it’s likely that there will be staff reductions. Given that some of the shows were far along in product and pre-production, it’s possible some of them could land at other outlets.

AMC’s withdrawal from unscripted programming comes on the same day that word surfaced of USA Network’s plan to back away from scripted comedy development, as reported by Deadline. The moves reflect the growing financial pressure on the largest cablers as they grapple with audience erosion, rising costs and shifting viewing patterns.

With programming and marketing resources become more scarce, it’s harder for even the biggest cablers to branch out behind their well-established strongholds because it takes so much money and time to spread the word to viewers. AMC’s early unscripted efforts included 2012’s “The Pitch,” a show designed to pair with “Mad Men,” about advertising agencies in the thick of pitching campaigns to clients.

At one time, AMC saw unscripted series as an eventual replacement for the theatrical features that still comprise a significant amount of the cabler’s schedule. But movies surprisingly continue to deliver steady 18-49 ratings while the unscripted shows were slow builds, for the most part. “Comic Book Men” has been the exception, drawing more than 1 million viewers per episode in Live Plus 3 ratings.

AMC also has been increasing its spending on scripted development, as it prepares for the end of “Mad Men” next year. It is fielding more pilots and series in the coming development cycle than ever before.

The range of scripted development includes “White City,” a Middle Eastern drama directed by Stephen Gaghan; a “Walking Dead” companion series; a straight-to-series order for martial arts vehicle “Badlands”; a co-production with the U.K.’s Channel 4 on sci-fi drama “Humans.” It also has hot prospects in the comic book inspired “Preacher” and the Civil Rights-era drama “Bombingham.”

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