AMC Networks CEO Talks Impact of ‘Mad Men,’ New Syndication Models

AMC Networks Chief Talks Impact of
Dustin Askland for Variety

AMC Networks president-CEO Josh Sapan proves to be a man of many passions: ice fishing, theater, strategic planning, poetry, photography and engaging with highly capable, creative people. His role as leader in the company that is home to cable channels AMC, SundanceTV, We TV, IFC, BBC America and IFC Films allows him to indulge in most of those interests. The ice fishing he does on his own time.

Do you remember what your expectations were when “Mad Men” premiered in 2007?

We were of the opinion that we needed to have programming that noticeably diversified us from our movie lineup. We knew we had more to gain with something that would bring us more attention than it would ratings. And in that, it has surpassed every expectation we
ever had.

When did you get the sense that the show was a game-changer?

It was a little ways in. There was one issue of the New York Times where it was written about … in the fashion section, and (another) commenting on the historical social patterns reflected in “Mad Men.” I remember thinking, my goodness, this is having an echo-impact well beyond what TV shows usually have.

AMC and SundanceTV helped forge the new syndication model for high-end dramas through licensing deals with Netflix. Does that create tension with traditional cable operators who’d rather not see those shows on a competitor? 

It’s good news to have tension inasmuch as it represents that there’s great interest and value in our material. The answer is “yes” — but it’s up to all of us to manage it and balance it and evaluate it.

Do you feel pressure to expand AMC Networks’ holdings?

We’ve grown carefully in ways that aggregate and amplify our strengths to our consumers and our distributors. For instance, we purchased the interest in BBC America four months ago — and look how much strength that lends us with “Broadchurch,” “Orphan Black,” “Doctor Who”
and on and on.

What’s the best part of your job?

The satisfying one is to be the facilitator of great TV shows and movies for people who have the ability to make them happen. That’s just so much fun. The second piece is having a (business) plan and making it work over a longer period of time. I take a lot of satisfaction from that, even if it is a little less immediate.

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