Nostalgia 2.0: AMC and the Development of Original Retro Programming
by John-Paul Kelly — University of Royal Holloway
October 31, 2011 – 00:00
In the season one finale of Mad Men (2007 – ), series’ protagonist and suave ad man Don Draper delivers a memorable and moving pitch for the Kodak Carousel. Recently, a re-edited version of the sequence (which accompanies this post) appeared on YouTube in which the Kodak Carousel has been replaced by Facebook’s new Timeline app. Although an obvious anachronism, the Facebook re-edit does raise some interesting questions about AMC, a network that specialises in “old media”, and its relevance within an increasingly “new media” industry.
During his pitch, Draper emphasises the twin lure of newness and nostalgia, a blending of past and present evident in Mad Men and the way in which AMC has begun to operate. Launched in 1984 during the midst of multi-channel expansion, the network originally specialised in the programming of classic American cinema. However, due to significant developments since its launch, AMC has had to revise its programming strategies accordingly. Specifically, the recent proliferation of technologies that enable the archival and repetition of television (DVD box sets, online streaming, etc.) have had a potentially detrimental effect upon the value of “old media,” the staple for networks like AMC.
In response to these changes, AMC has seemingly heeded Draper’s advice, pursuing a more balanced mix of old and new. Indeed, since the mid 1990s the network has produced a growing number of retro-style productions. Although Mad Men is the most notable example of this trend, it was preceded by the critically acclaimed Remember WENN (1996 – 1998), a thirty-minute dramedy about a Pittsburgh radio station in the 1940s and The Lot (1999 – 2001), a series charting the trials and tribulations of a fictional film studio in the 1930s. For AMC, these retro style productions act as both content and promotion, offering viewers something new whilst keeping within the original retrospective remit of the network’s brand. Even contemporary set series such as Rubicon (2010) and The Walking Dead (2010 – ) have drawn numerous comparisons with the kind of classic cinematic fare upon which AMC has built its brand.
What is particularly interesting is that these retro style programmes have spawned a wide range of “new media” paratexts including iPhone apps, Twitter profiles, and various other exclusive online materials. AMC may specialise in “old media” programming but they are clearly embracing this “new media” environment.