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Thought Experiment: What If HBO Had Picked Up Mad Men?

Stashed in: Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Netflix, Godfather, Telly: BB, HBO, Grantland!, Shawshank Redemption, Telly: MM

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There Would Be No AMC As We Know It

The home of the most-watched series on cable, The Walking Dead, would have suffered the grisliest fate without Mad Men’s leap into the American consciousness. The longtime destination for Remember WENN and several thousand showings of The Shawshank Redemption and bad transfers of the Godfather trilogy, AMC made a major bet on Mad Men. An expensive period piece from a first-time showrunner with little action, high literary aspiration, and a cast of unknowns, Mad Men was an unlikely network launcher. But its success — primarily as a conversation driver among avid fans in the media, advertising industry, and a particular sort of slumming aesthete — encouraged the network to expand rapidly into development. Imagine the dominoes that would have toppled here. In all likelihood, FX would have pounced on The Walking Dead. And you can say good-bye to The Killing; perish the confusing thoughts of Rubicon; laser-remove those Hell on Wheels back tattoos, and …

There Would Have Been No Breaking Bad

Just the second series put into motion by the network, and already passed over by FX president John Landgraf — citing too many male antiheroes on his roster of shows — Breaking Bad likely would not have found a home without AMC. Just eight years ago, the basic cable playing field was narrow. The pay cable channels were not taking a flier on Vince Gilligan’s chemistry-teacher-gone-rogue pilot. Original programming at Netflix was just a twinkle in a CEO’s eye. Pitch-dark shows like Breaking Bad almost never get the patience and personal attention that AMC afforded it. And without it, no one knocks, no one cooks, and no one calls Saul.

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