Tuned In

The 1960s and the Future at AMC's Party

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AMC threw a cocktail party at the TV critics’ press tour last night. Was there a theme? Well, when you’re the maker of Mad Men, cocktails are the theme. It takes care of itself. 

The network, which a few years ago you would have confused with the maker of the 1970s’ classic Pacer and Gremlin, is the belle of the ball now, at least with the press and Emmy voters. Reporters thronged Emmy nominees Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, while Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks were surrounded by admirers, the glowing red lights of their digital recorders pointed toward the actors’ mouths like backwards cigarettes. 

I tend to shy away from big press scrums like that (I did chat a little with Robert Morse and Breaking Bad’s charming and even-taller-in-real-life Anna Gunn), but I did take some time to buttonhole the creator of an AMC drama that does not yet exist. 

Jason Horwitch is the creator of Rubicon, a political thriller AMC recently picked up for next year. As a fan of twisty, byzantine serials, I was curious, and Horwitch definitely makes it sound twisty and byzantine. The drama is set in a political think tank—based, Horwitch says, on the RAND Institute—one of whose employees (James Badge Dale) becomes enmeshed in a global conspiracy. (Lili Taylor and Miranda Richardson co-star.) 

Horwitch says that when he pitched the show to AMC, he described it as: “What happens in an hour of 24, we’ll do in a season.” You might not think that would be a selling point for a TV show, but there lies the difference between AMC and network drama. What he means, Horwitch says, is that he wants to do a story of political intrigue, not in the heightened-reality action style of 24 or Alias, but rather with the detail and psychological realism of a show like The Wire. (Which makes the pitch make more sense: you could simplistically describe The Wire saying that it does in a season what a police procedural does in one episode.)

The idea, Horwitch says, is to tell a story that seems like it could happen in the real world (again, pace Alias), which ideally makes it that much more chilling. He also wants to capture the “weirdness” of 1970s political thrillers like The Parallax View. 

Yeah, I know: it’s easy to talk a good show, and the fact is, I haven’t yet seen a single frame of Rubicon. (The pilot is shot, but Horwitch is still staffing up his writers; shooting starts in New York in January.) And Horwitch was not spilling much detail; as I talked to Dale about his character, the creator hovered nervously nearby as Dale looked to him to see what he wasn’t allowed to spill (apparently, quite a lot). Still, I’m at least more excited to see it now. 

Of course, that may be the martinis talking.

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