AMC is ramping up production of original series, ordering two new shows in one cycle for the first time in its history, even as it bids goodbye to “Breaking Bad,” the series that followed “Mad Men” to help launch its remarkable run of acclaimed cable hits.
AMC president Charlie Collier made the announcement Friday afternoon before he brought out the cast and creator of “Breaking Bad” for one last appearance at TCA, ahead of the Sunday, Aug. 11 premiere of the eight-episode final season of the show, which has just received 13 Emmy nominations, a record for the series.
Per Collier, the new shows are both period dramas: “Halt and Catch Fire” is about the personal computing boom of the early 1980s, and “Turn,” a drama set in 1778, about a ring of rebel spies who turn the tide of the American Revolutionary War.
“Halt and Catch Fire” will star Lee Pace and was created by Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers. “Turn” stars Jamie Bell and was written by Craig Silverstein, who is also the showrunner.
“Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan was joined on stage by Bryan Cranston, who stars as Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who has morphed into a fearsome crystal meth kingpin, along with fellow cast members Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte and Bob Odenkirk.
Missing was Dean Norris, who plays dogged police detective Hank, as the actor has already moved on to join the cast of the CBS sci-fi drama “Under The Dome.” But Norris no doubt plays a major role in the ‘final eight,” as the highly-anticipated episodes have been dubbed, since the previous season ended with his character laying his hands on an unlikely clue – a volume of Walt Whitman poetry – that unmistakably ties his brother-in-law Walter to the dreaded drug dealer “Heisenberg” whom Norris has obsessively tracked from the outset.
Cast members kept their lips sealed about specifics of the final eight, but show-runner Gilligan allowed himself a burst of pride: “I think most folks are going to dig the ending,” he said. “I hope I’m not wildly wrong in that estimation.” He added,”I was really nervous about coming up with the end of this thing for six years straight.”
Cranston jokingly asserted that events tilt to the sunny side rather than the dark side. “Walt spreads joy throughout the last eight episodes,” he claimed. “And then we hug it out, and all is forgiven.”
Among the nuggets of news that emerged from the session: A series spin-off centering on Saul Goodman, the slippery lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk, is on track, though the network hasn’t made a decision on it yet. Gilligan is developing it with writer Peter Gould, who created the Goodman character in season two. “I really hope it happens,” said Gilligan, “but that’s for powers bigger than me to decide.”
Also, a two-hour documentary involving much behind-the-scenes footage, including the reactions of Cranston and Paul when they read the final script, has been commissioned by Sony and is likely to be included in the boxed DVD or Blu-Ray sets of the full series.
AMC also rolled out its newest drama series, “Low Winter Sun,” which will premiere directly following “Breaking Bad” on Aug. 11. Set in Detroit, where it’s been filming since April, the 10-episode cop drama stars Mark Strong and Lennie James, who appeared along with showrunner and writer Chris Mundy. “It’s about a detective who is coerced by a fellow officer into killing another detective, and then is assigned to investigate that same killing,” said Mundy. The series is based on much shorter 2006 British series of the same name, and was expanded by Mundy. The cast and creator went out of their way to say supportive things about the beleaguered city of Detroit, which has just declared bankruptcy. “It’s a city that feels that a lot of people don’t care, and we’re doing our bit to give a crap,” said James, who called it “a little nuts, and the most dangerous and interesting First World city I’ve ever been in.”
“It has everything,” said Strong. “Enormous mansions and apocalyptic wastelands. We’ve had an amazing time there, working and filming and getting to know the locals.”
Based on the clips, “Low Winter Sun” looks like another stunner for AMC – riveting both dramatically and visually, with a powerful cast. Asked why Strong and James, who are both British, were cast as the Detroit cops, Mundy said, “It was a case of ‘let the best actor win.’”