No, we don’t mean the technology. We mean the writing.
by Sarah Fonder
Despite the oft-repeated assertion that this is the Golden Age of Television, TV has typically not been too kind to smart, well-written shows. When a network puts an underdog series like Bunheads or Happy Endings on the cutting board, it’s hard not to go from panic to complete resignation. Too many of us have had to get used to the phrase “brilliant but cancelled,” and for a long time it’s looked like daring television just isn’t all that lucrative. Thankfully, recent reports prove this might finally be changing: believe it or not, critical darlings are actually making money.
The past few weeks have seen the once underrated Breaking Bad move from cult hit to definite success, and previously hesitant advertisers are taking notice in a big way. After a record-breaking season premiere, The New York Times reported that ad space in the final episodes of Breaking Bad is so highly coveted that a 30-second commercial is worth $300,000. These kinds of high-end ad fees are incredibly rare for cable, usually reserved for network television shows with way larger audiences (ad space for juggernauts like American Idol runs around $500,000). One could chalk this success up to the fast-paced narrative that made shows like Lost into huge hits, but the slow-burning Mad Men also broke viewership records for AMC in its season six finale.
And AMC itself has proved to be worth a lot for a channel that prides itself as a thinking person’s network. Though its shows don’t have the massive ratings of Dancing with the Stars or NCIS, AMC’s content has done so well that they’ve gradually been able to charge cable companies more money to host it. And those companies are paying, whether they like it or not: last year, Dish Network almost dropped AMC after a rise in prices, but complaining subscribers proved the channel was worth the investment. AMC’s dedication to smart TV has paid off: Mad Men andBreaking Bad sweep the Emmys year after year, and The Walking Dead was the tenth most popular show of the 2012-13 season.
The other big success story is Netflix, which saw more growth than ever after the decision to add good original programming….