Like a tech startup saved by an angel investor, “Halt and Catch Fire” has squeaked out a third season renewal from AMC.
The decision to continue with the show, an ensembler set in the tech boom of the 1980s in Texas, required considerable deliberation and analysis by AMC execs, as “Halt’s” already small audience dropped from its first season in 2014. The renewal stands as evidence that even ad-supported networks are looking well beyond Nielsen numbers in evaluating the potential of original series.
“Halt” was saved by the fact that it had a steady core viewership that was largely upscale, and it enjoyed strong momentum with critics in season two after making shifts in its storytelling focus. All of that adds up to a show with potential to be a cult-fave draw for on-demand services, whether AMC’s own or outside streaming players. Netflix already has rights to the first two seasons.
It also didn’t hurt that AMC owns the series outright through its AMC Studios banner. AMC made a similar call on a modest performer earlier this year with a third-season pickup for Revolutionary War drama “Turn.”
Season two of “Halt,” which wrapped Aug. 2, averaged about 865,000 viewers per episode in Nielsen’s live-plus-3 ratings, and just under 1 million in live-plus-7 ratings. AMC has ordered 10 episodes for season three. The third season will debut shortly after its AMC bow on the AMC Global channels reaching 140 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
“We spent a lot of time going through our paces on a business level and we finally felt we had the right amount of creative momentum to keep going,” said Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV. “We all the know the relationship between ratings and revenue. We’ve built these shows to be scalable without massive ratings. We are confident that we are on a path to long-term success.”
AMC declined to elaborate on financial terms. Knowledgeable sources said the show’s budget is on the lower-end of cable TV dramas but is still upwards of $2 million an episode, which will not change in season three. “Halt’s” core stars are Lee Pace, Kerry Bishe, Scoot McNairy and Mackenzie Davis.
One aspect of production that will change is the showrunner duties. Jonathan Lisco is handing the reins to series creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers. The pair were newcomers to TV at the time “Halt” began but they’ve had a two-season apprenticeship alongside Lisco for the past two seasons. Lisco is moving on to spearhead drama “Animal Kingdom” for TNT. Cantwell and Rogers are exec producers with Mark Johnson (“Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul”) and Melissa Bernstein of Johnson’s Gran Via Productions.
“While we know we would not be here were it not for the leadership and mentorship of former showrunner Jonathan Lisco, we’re incredibly excited to continue working with our wonderful producing partners at Gran Via, as well as our extremely talented cast and crew,” Cantwell and Rogers said. “Much in the way that ‘Halt’ is about underdogs overcoming convention and breaking new ground, the story of season three will endeavor to further stretch the medium and challenge the form.”
Stillerman called the “Halt” handoff a “great example of how to nurture new talent.” For sure, marriages of creators and showrunners don’t always go so smoothly but the trio developed a good working relationship from the start, by all accounts.
Another change for “Halt” will be the scenery as the setting moves to Northern California’s Silicon Valley in season three. That shift is a natural move for key “Halt” characters. The series started in season one with an emphasis on the PC-building wars between a host of startup hardware companies. Last season’s storyline saw the characters move into the software arena and the first stirrings of what would become the Internet.
“It’s a way to continue to reinvent a show that is already great on a character level in a way that makes it even more relatable” to viewers with an interesting in the evolution of the high-tech world, Stillerman said.
Although the action is shifting to San Jose and environs, production of “Halt” will remain in Atlanta.