AMC’s embarrassment of riches

Cabler rolls out new skeins as 'Mad Men' sked remains uncertain

AMC has gone from 0 to 60 in under a decade.

Considering the network is readying “Hell on Wheels” for a probable fourth quarter debut, according to network topper Charlie Collier, the analogy is apt. The cabler, once known for its voluminous film library, has quickly become a major basic-cable force in original scripted programming.

At Friday’s Television Critics Assn. confab in Pasadena, the network also announced that drama series “The Killing,” based on the Danish series “Forbrydelsen,” would debut April 3.

The Western “Hell on Wheels” takes place after the Civil War and follows a former Confederate soldier seeking vengeance as well as the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Skein stars Anson Mount and was created by Joe and Tony Gayton.

“The Killing,” from creator Veena Sud, is set in Seattle and ties three stories around a single murder — from the point of view of the detectives, the victim’s family and the suspects.

“There’s so much in the crime genre on television, but there’s nothing like this,” said Collier in touting “The Killing.”

This year the cabler may be hard pressed to top 2010, when AMC earned boffo ratings for zombie-filled “The Walking Dead.” Series averaged 6.6 million viewers for its six episodes. For 2011, the episode order has been upped to 13.

Collier said the show benefited from a strong Fear Fest programming marathon that preceded the “Walking Dead” Halloween debut. But, more importantly, he believed the show reached out to a broader audience than many had anticipated.

“We wanted it to have the depth of a character drama,” he explained. “You had the genre fans — and it served them well — and people like myself. I’m not a zombie guy, but it’s a story of survival and what you would do in adversity. Those themes were as large and relatable as they were on ‘Lost’ or ‘Lord of the Flies.'”

Net’s signature show, however, remains “Mad Men,” and while AMC confirmed that it has greenlit a fifth season, it’s uncertain when the Emmy-winning skein will actually air. As has been the case in recent years, producer Lionsgate is in negotiations with creator-showrunner Matthew Weiner, who has not yet signed up for the new season. Talks between Weiner and Lionsgate TV are expected to heat up shortly.

With a wealth of shows, program scheduling has become more complex for Collier and his exec team in recent years. With “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and now “The Killing” and “Hell on Wheels” added to the mix, it’s become vital to keep lead-in and lead-outs in mind. That’s a nice problem to have and one the net has rarely had to face before.

Of course, not every series has been a success. “Rubicon,” which underwent a showrunner change early on, was canceled after one season.

As for “Breaking Bad,” net announced production will begin next week in Albuquerque, N.M. Collier had previously said that to give creator Vince Gilligan more time to write, the skein won’t air until July and will thereby miss the Emmy eligibility period. That means Bryan Cranston’s three-year streak of winning the lead drama actor trophy has come to an end.