Tuesday , February 27 2024
TV by the Numbers founder Robert Seidman on ratings and Rubicon --and some final thought on the series' first season.

AMC’s Rubicon: Fate and the Finale

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. 

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org).

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