The morning after “Killing Eve” returned for its second season on BBC America, that network’s parent company held a series of panels at New York City’s Public Hotel celebrating the company’s successes — including announcing a third-season pickup — and indicating the path they intend to follow. AMC Networks, comprised of AMC, BBC America, IFC, and SundanceTV, among others, brought together talent from across its four flagship channels for a summit to address their place in an increasingly fragmented TV universe.
“We are competing not just with 500 new shows each year,” said the company’s president of entertainment Sarah Barnett in an address kicking off the summit, “but also every show that’s ever existed.” The company’s value proposition, she suggested, lay in its ability to do what “Killing Eve” has so far done — standing out by dint of its lack of artistic compromise. “Can there be a value to viewers other than being entertained?” Barnett mused rhetorically, adding that AMC shows “don’t have the rough edges sanded off in an attempt to be all things to all people.”
AMC’s emphasis on that sort of content — the kind likely to get deep, if not broad, engagement from devotees who believe the shows were made for them — came through in panels that played up the network’s inclusivity and its edgy streak. The day’s first panel focused on inclusion generally; the next looked at the topic specifically through the prism of genre entertainment. In that first panel, Sandra Oh, the star of “Killing Eve,” addressed the year she’s had since “Killing Eve” landed, including sharing a message with her parents in Korean after winning a Golden Globe, a moment that emphasized the pathbreaking nature of her achievements. “It’s been a great privilege to have platforms to continue the reminder of one’s existence,” she said. Her costar Fiona Shaw called Oh’s casting “a good deed producing another good deed”: Her performance “absolutely stopped British thrillers being about the class system.”
The genre panel reached several emotional high points, first when George Takei recalled his incarceration in a World War II-era internment camp, a moment in history he’ll relive as an actor on the second season of “The Terror.” “I’m the last generation that experienced the internment,” he said, “and it’s my mission in life to make sure that chapter in history is not forgotten.” “The Walking Dead’s” Melissa McBride was moved to tears discussing her character’s bravery in the face of challenges internal and external: “I know people like her that didn’t make it. Empathy! We need more of that,” she said. “These are happy tears, because it’s a good thing that happened to Carol.” Later, the focus came to comedy, with two panels uniting talent from “Better Call Saul,” “Lodge 49,” and “Killing Eve” — all dramas with a comic bite — and outright jokefests “Sherman’s Showcase,” “Brockmire,” and “Documentary Now!,” with a heavy emphasis on the concept of barrier-breaking and envelope-pushing. (Moderator Jill Kargman set the tone by increasingly cursing on-mic throughout.) The message? That AMC’s networks are places for experimentation and oddity, even when their shows appeal, by design, only to a passionate niche.
Another genre with a passionate niche following — nature documentaries — came in for discussion, too, as AMC showed off footage of the upcoming “One Planet: Seven Worlds,” a drone-shot series focusing on each of the seven continents. BBC America executive director Courtney Thomasma, whose network is rebranding as “Project Awe” every Saturday to promote its environmental offerings, said “The touch stone for us has been awe. We’re rallying around that awe.” “Blue Planet” director Mark Brownlow emphasized the network’s use of animals as a way to tell stories of environmental degradation, recalling a story in his series about a pilot whale mourning her baby. “That story overnight changed the conversation around ocean plastics. It cut through the noise,” he said. His upcoming “Frozen Planet II” will address climate change through “emotionally-charged stories of animals you can relate to.”
The summit represented an opportunity for AMC Networks to frame how they thought of themselves as an artistic outlet — without the lack of control that comes from a TCA panel or the obligations to appeal to advertisers attending an upfront presentation. Facing a crowded landscape dominated by better-funded content arms of major corporations (from AT&T’s HBO to Disney’s FX to Netflix’s… Netflix), AMC is forced to be scrappy in order to stay in the fight. Framing themselves as the home for genre experimentation and gritty, somewhat blue comedy seems a canny choice.