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Can AMC Make ‘Preacher’ as Successful as ‘The Walking Dead’?

By John Casteele - Feb 10, 2014 at 12:12PM

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AMC and Sony Pictures Television recently announced a deal to produce a TV series based on the controversial comic series "Preacher." Given that previous attempts to develop the material have fallen through due to the potential for controversy, is AMC taking too big of a risk?

After months of rumors, it has been confirmed that AMC Networks (AMCX 4.47%) and Sony's (SONY 1.22%) Sony Pictures Television are producing a new series based on Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's "Preacher" comic series. Similar to AMC's "The Walking Dead," "Preacher" will be a drama based for more mature audiences.

It will be interesting to see how well the comics adapt to the small screen. While AMC has taken graphic content from "The Walking Dead" and adapted it well enough, "Preacher" offers up a mingling of violence and religious themes that might not go over as well as zombies and drama between human survivors.

So what is 'Preacher'?
Originally published in 1995, the Eisner Award-winning "Preacher" follows a small-town Texas preacher named Jesse Custer who is possessed by a supernatural entity known as Genesis in an accident that wiped out his entire congregation. Born of a coupling between an angel and a demon, Genesis gives Custer supernatural powers such as the ability to give commands that no one is able to resist. Custer sets out across the United States, attempting to find God and make Him answer for abandoning humanity.

As you can see, this isn't exactly your standard comic book fare. The series was published by Time Warner's (TWX) DC Comics under the "Vertigo" imprint, which was originally created to publish titles that didn't meet the guidelines of the Comic Code Authority and often contained excessive violence or other mature content. This allowed the comic the freedom it needed to develop its story, building a dark (and darkly funny) narrative that included critical takes on religious figures, murder, cannibalism, and worse.

Previous attempts
AMC's take on "Preacher" won't be the first time that an adaptation of the comic was attempted. A film version of the comic struggled to get off the ground between 1998 and 2004, making it far enough to have X-Men and Superman Returns star James Marsden cast as Jesse Custer in 2002. The various production companies associated with the project dropped out at one point or another, generally citing the religious controversy as a reason, while other companies passed on the project due either to the controversy or conflicts over profit sharing.

Comcast's (CMCSA 1.45%) HBO expressed interest in developing a "Preacher" series after the film attempt fell through, announcing in late 2006 that it was developing a pilot. Unfortunately, the dark style and potential controversy caused new management at HBO to abandon the project by 2008.

The new 'Preacher'
This latest attempt at bringing "Preacher" to life was spearheaded by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writers and directors of This Is the End. Long-time fans of the comic, the duo had been attempting to resurrect "Preacher" since the HBO series fell through. Multiple networks were reported to be interested in this new take, with The Hollywood Reporter claiming that AMC won out with a "heavy commitment" to make the series. Sam Catlin, co-executive producer of AMC's "Breaking Bad," will serve as both executive producer and showrunner for the new series.

Is 'Preacher' worth the risk?
Regardless of how the source material is handled in the show, "Preacher" is sure to generate controversy. The comic's portrayal of God and the devil, characters such as Herr Starr and the Saint of Killers, and the overall story can only be adjusted so much; attempting to change or remove the controversial material would butcher the story (which presumably none of those involved will want to do.) Regardless of whether "Preacher" gets toned down for television, there are going to be people who absolutely hate it.

That said, controversy can sometimes be a good thing. Even if people are talking about how horrible and blasphemous the show is, people will still be talking about it; in this case the controversy will fit right in with the show, and might help to fuel ratings. AMC has tackled mature topics before with "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad," and barring premium channels like HBO, it's probably one of the best possible homes for "Preacher" on TV.

There might be some risk involved, but that risk is far outweighed by the show's potential to be a hit for the network after the loss of "Breaking Bad" and the upcoming final season of "Mad Men."

John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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