In the wake of the AOL/Time Warner merger, what was previously referred to as the future of programming – multimedia launches, web-links, interactive television – is now a necessary element for success. This is particularly true for factual programmers looking for more ways
to deliver informative entertainment within a limited number of programming hours. Marc Juris, American Movie Classics’ senior VP of original programming, packaging & production, sees the possibilities offered by new media as an important platform through which to expand the channel’s brand. Explains Juris, ‘In the future, as more and more channels and digital platforms and high speed data transmissions come to play, there’s going to be a lot of people knocking on our viewers’ doors and screens. Now is the time to brand series that become part of pop culture . . . That’s been complimented by the new media world. It’s the movie, it’s a visual experience giving you greater insight and information about the movie, and then the third level is coming from directed technology on the website.’
Technology may soon make viewing the movie of your choice as simple as clicking a button. This is one reason the 16-year-old broadcaster has increased its original programming budget by a percentage reaching double digits within the last three years. AMC is a 24-hour movie network broadcasting classic films from the 1930s to the 1980s, but what sets it apart from the competition (which Juris defines as ‘any channel that shows great movies and has programming about the movie business’) is the original productions which accompany the films. ‘We just don’t put on a movie,’ explains Juris, ‘We put a movie on, but we tell you really what to look for, what the history of the movie is, what the significance of the movie is, some great things that happened during the making of the movie. So when you’re looking at this movie, you’re looking at it from a different point of view.’
AMC prefers 30-minute series that capture a return audience. Their demographic is an equal split between men and women, ages 25 to 54. There are eight original series currently broadcasting. Cinema Secrets, airing Friday at 10:00 p.m., looks at the role and development of special effects, both contemporary and historical. Animal Actors, a recent episode which aired on January 21, looked at animals in the movies from Lassie to Stuart Little.
Hollywood Real to Reel, broadcasting Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., pairs a doc and a movie with a related theme or element. ‘A documentary on blacklisting we might pair with Roman Holiday, that was actually written by a blacklisted writer,’ says Juris. ‘We would explain to you in the doc the incredible effect blacklisting had on Hollywood and the human and the creative toll that it took. Then we would explain to you that Roman Holiday was written by a blacklisted writer at the darkest time of his life, but his friend put his name on the script and that was the secret they kept for their entire lifetime.’
The Hollywood Fashion Machine, starting Monday at 8:00 p.m., examines the influence of Hollywood on fashion and the role of fashion in the movies. Upcoming episodes include The Fashion of Fear which profiles how Alfred Hitchcock used fashion to shape his movies.
amc is currently developing the pilot for a proposed biographical series called Hollywood 101 which will follow a director, designer, photographer, and other crafts persons throughout the filming of a movie. This will allow viewers a true sense of what these jobs involve. If approved, the series will air weekly and run 30 minutes per episode.
In addition to its regular documentary strands, American Movie Classics aims to air one-off doc specials at a rate of one per month. An upcoming program, currently in production by San Francisco-based Telling Pictures, profiles William Haines, the first openly gay actor in Hollywood, and the effect his openness had on both his life and career.
Although virtually all of AMC’s productions are produced by independent producers, most doc concepts are developed in-house, with 60% of programs originating through commissions. Again, Juris raises the importance of branding, ‘When you acquire programming, you sort of lose a little bit of who you are. When branding is so essential, you want to make sure that everything goes back to the brand promise.’ That’s not to say there isn’t room for flexibility. ‘If you pitch us a great idea, we’ll do the doc. It’s as simple as that. We’ve planned our budget so that we can respond instantly to a great idea.’ Just such an offer-not-to-be-refused arose when Christie’s called Juris six weeks before the Marilyn Monroe auction and asked if they would be interested in televising it. ‘When I heard it was in six weeks I said, `That’s just impossible to do something in six weeks, but we’re going to do it anyway’,’ Juris says excitedly. The auction was aired live, alongside the documentary Marilyn Monroe: Beyond the Legend.
AMC also enters into coproductions, both domestically and internationally. As a domestically distributed channel, AMC doesn’t see international rights as critical, but the ability to enter into agreements with international partners to produce programs that will do well globally and at a lesser cost, is attractive. Says Juris, ‘Again, we are looking to creatively challenge ourselves and we’re very, very responsive to creative/different ideas. And we’ll try them.’