Fans of Breaking Bad will have to wait just a little longer before they can return to the world of Saul Goodman -- AMC Entertainment (NASDAQ: AMCX ) announced this week it was delaying Better Call Saul until 2015. It's the latest in a string of less-than-stellar news surrounding the network's attempt to launch its next big dramatic hit, but it may end up being a blessing.
AMC has clearly made a mark on cable TV since the debut of Mad Men in 2007, following up with two huge successes -- Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. But since those hits premiered, it's been relatively dry. This year was supposed to break that drought as executives announced a trio of new projects that each carried high hopes. But they all hit snags.
Spy drama Turn started off with 2.1 million viewers but quickly dropped to 1.2 million viewers. That's the same number the network's Halt and Catch Fire bowed to with its opening a few months later. Now that Saul has been delayed, investors, analysts, and fans are concerned about the network's ability to launch another major hit.
Yet the push to 2015 could actually be a blessing for the network. Some had questioned if launching the show in the fall would really have helped. AMC's Sunday nights in the fourth quarter are dominated by the dead ...The Walking Dead and its after-show Talking Dead. They air back-to-back and while executives had experimented with splitting them, Talking's numbers are more impressive when paired with its partner series. But that makes using Walking as a potential lead-in for Saul more difficult.
If AMC debuts Saul in early 2015, it avoids that headache and gets to skip the holiday season where TV viewership is generally lower. Granted, there are still obstacles to overcome -- you have to factor in the back half of Dead's run (which usually starts in February) as well as playoff football.
As a result executives could opt to give Saul an early January debut so it has time to find an audience before being paired with Dead, or it could bypass the zombie series altogether and launch alongside the final season of Mad Men.
AMC is hurting for a new hit, especially with Mad Men ending next year and Breaking Bad gone. Executives know they can't rely exclusively on The Walking Dead to lure advertisers and audiences.
Many analysts look at Saul's shift as a sign of trouble, but I think this was the right move for AMC, and executives played it smart by also announcing they had greenlit a second season of the show for 2016. Realistically, with Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and Michael McKean attached and the Bad pedigree in place, there was no way Saul wasn't going to get renewed for a second season. It shows faith in the series and assuages any fears the delay is indicative of the show's quality.
AMC has to be extra careful because Saul is the network's best shot at launching a new hit. If executives can get it off the ground that would ease the pressure on its 2015 slate, which is expected to include such high-profile projects as Ridley Scott and Greg Nicotero's Galyntine, horror thriller Knifeman (from Friday Night Lights scribe Rolin Jones), and a Walking Dead spin-off.
Delaying Saul gives AMC time to meticulously plot its next move. All the pieces for success are in place, they just have to put them together.
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