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AMC’s Rubicon: Fate and the Finale

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So the question on the minds of the million or so people who followed Rubicon to its first season end: will the series come back next summer on AMC? Its TV ratings numbers have been chronically weak all season.

And after a rally for its penultimate episode (the audience rose by
50 percent in total viewers and 26 percent in the coveted 18 to 49 age group bracket), ratings retreated from merely poor to abysmal for the finale. It came in 17th of 20 rated cable series. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the death knell for the freshman series, noted TV by the Numbers guru and co-founder Robert Seidman, during an interview I conducted with him by phone last week.

“If Rubicon aired on a broadcast network with the same relative ratings, it has no chance whatsoever of being renewed. But it doesn’t air on a broadcast network,” he explained.

Other factors are involved. “At the end of the day,” said Seidman, “AMC is in it to make money.” There are two ways to do that, he pointed out, one of which is through advertising (which relies on the TV ratings numbers in order to sell commercial time).

But for cable networks, according to Seidman, “there’s not a lot of advertising revenue even for top shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.” Not even those shows are reaching more than a tiny fraction of the coveted 18-49 demographic. Ratings numbers don’t mean as much to a series’ fate.

On the other hand, he explained, “telephone companies that provide TV service [like Comcast] pay a monthly fee to AMC (or any cable channel) per subscriber. And those fees are easier to negotiate, perhaps, when you have Emmy award-winning shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.”

Although Rubicon has yet to win any awards (but I think it likely to receive a nomination or two come award season), Seidman wondered whether, since it’s not a real source of advertising revenue, Rubicon benefits AMC through “carriage fee” negotiations with the Cable providers. If it does, it may have enough value to be kept on next year’s schedule. But, Seidman pointed out, AMC already has critically acclaimed, award-winning series. So does Rubicon hold any value, or is it merely taking up space? 

The answer may lie in something more strategic than advertising dollars or carriage fees. “I think that the one unknown,” suggested Seidman, “is that more [cable] networks are trying to do more and more original programming. So the big question that hasn’t been answered yet is: with the, albeit somewhat tiny ratings Rubicon has had and with the critical acclaim, will they give it another season and hope that, okay, between various Rubicon marathons between now and next year that the ratings will be better in season two?” 

The verdict according to Seidman? “Ultimately I think that there’s a small chance it will be renewed.” So there appears, at least, to be a ray of hope. However, I interviewed Seidman after the ratings bump of the penultimate episode — before the numbers slipped backwards.

The season finale leaves much up in the air: API chief Truxton Spangler (the phenomenal Michael Cristofer), who has become almost as twitchy as genius analyst Miles Fiedler (Dallas Roberts), has received a four-leaf clover. Anything but lucky, it’s code for: “it’s time to fall on your sword and off yourself for the cause.”

Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson) is dead, assassinated by injection in the middle of Central Park. Will has been demoted, replaced as head of his analyst team by the more conformist Grant Test, and Tanya has resigned. 

Questions for the next season (should one be in the offing—pretty please, AMC?) concern the fate of the conspiracy of old stodgy men, whether Will Travers (James Badge Dale), as he suggests in a nod to Three Days of the Condor goes to the New York Times with what he knows.

And what will Spangler do with the about that clover? My guess is that Spangler will not go the way of Thomas Rhumor, who fell on his proverbial sword in the series’ first episode. I think he’ll fight the decree and come out swinging—ruthlessly and calmly: a disingenuous smile frozen on his face. Or maybe threaten to expose them all, while pleading his own innocence. Or maybe something much more sinister.

And then there’s Kale Ingram (played with a calm nobility by Arliss Howard). Kale is the smartest guy in the room in a room full of incredibly smart people. But will he have overplayed his hand now that Spangler no longer trusts him (if he ever did)?

Will Spangler hand the conspiracy Ingram’s head in exchange for his own? So many questions; so many possibilities.

Of course it’s all academic if Rubicon is cancelled. So, make sure you call or email AMC and ask The Powers That Be to renew the show. It deserves a second season, although it’s an acquired taste for many.

It’s the anti-24: an intelligent, slow-burn political thriller with great acting and tight, crisp writing. If you haven’t yet, catch it on any of the On Demand services or in reruns. 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Ruby

    This show is AMAZING. I will be really upset if it’s not renewed.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I am glad it’s over. I stuck it out to the bitter end, and found the finale as feeble and ridiculous as the rest. Put this one out its misery.

  • Roger

    This was my favorite summer show this year. It should pick up some awards this year and hopefully get renewed. It would suck if Rubicon got the ax. Sometimes it seems all that is on tv is mindless crap and reality shows (is there even a difference?). There are not many good shows that make you think out there and it would be a shame to lose this one.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I hope this show made a big impact on enough people like it did me so it can get renewed. But, I doubt it because too many people watch shit like Jersey Shore or [insert shitty “reality” show name here].

    Can’t wait for The Walking Dead… Looks Awesome!

  • nuts&bolts

    This is the best show on television. Not one of the new fall dramas comes close. Please email AMC – I did and got a response back. They listen.

  • Jaye

    I adore this show. I will be so upset if it’s not renewed. It will develop more of a following if AMC gives it a chance.

  • hwl40

    Anyone have an email address for AMC or how to get one? I haven’t seen it and would like to after reading Barbara’s great reviews and your comments.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    AMC Viewer Services
    200 Jericho Quadrangle
    Jericho, New York 11753
    516-803-4360

  • ashmh

    It’s not perfect. At least not yet. But it has room to grow. Besides, the ratings for “MAD MEN” have always been weak. And it’s finishing its fourth season. Mind you, I’ve stopped watching “MAD MEN”. But it’s still on the air.

  • http://www.dotcalm.blog-city.com Sophmom

    I think the fact that it was complicated and needed to be watched from the beginning to be understood hurt the ratings. All those folks who watched the penultimate episode didn’t come back because they didn’t have a clue what was going on. AMC could have helped by making the shows available On Demand or on their website, but they chose not to.

    Also, AMC has heavily promoted The Walking Dead to the #1 trending (promoted) topic on Twitter. There was no such support for Rubicon. All the Rubicon buzz on Twitter has been viewer/user generated, and is therefore, genuine. It will last and increase.

    I also continue to hope that if AMC offers Season 1 for viewing “marathons” between now and Season 2 the series will increase in popularity between now and then. It deserves the chance. It’s that good.

    P.S. I so don’t believe Tanya’s really going to quit and no way Spangler’s going to take that clover lying down. :)

  • William McCauley

    An intelligent, interesting, well acted, gripping show that kept one coming back. Then there are the reality shows one can skip anytime, all the time and never miss.

  • gjn

    This show was too good for the mind numbed american viewing audience.

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