AMC has renewed Halt and Catch Fire, its ingenious drama about the 1980s tech industry, for a third season of 10 episodes. The show will return with its cast intact and creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers promoted to full showrunners. It will be back in summer 2016.
Despite low ratings, the series' second season, which concluded in August, was one of the biggest treats of the summer. It combined propulsive storytelling about the early days of the internet with a surprisingly nuanced take on obsession and the ways men and women relate to each other in the workplace. Though the series' first season has its flaws, season two perfectly addressed them. The show was rewarded for those efforts with substantial critical acclaim.
"The critical momentum was a big part of the decision," Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, told me.
The ratings weren't always there, but the storytelling was
Stillerman said the network was particularly impressed with how the series overcame those first-season bumps to deliver something with real momentum in its second season. "It’s a great sign that we’re in good hands in terms of the creative team," he said. "We love the story. We know that it’s a very relevant story, and that there’s an audience out there for it."
Of course, at this point, that audience is tiny. The series' ratings regularly finished below 500,000 viewers, and even with improvements in DVR and streaming numbers, that's a much lower number than networks customarily reward with a renewal.
But Stillerman says those who watch the show tend to watch every episode religiously — a good sign for potential future growth. And it helps that AMC produces the show, rather than licensing it from another company, which means it can collect money from streaming deals and other revenue sources.
"For the last few years, we’ve transitioned to a company that can own our own content and are able to make decisions that aren’t just simply based on ratings," Stillerman said.
Yet AMC has often supported low-rated series that have found later success in the past. Breaking Bad, for instance, struggled substantially in its first few seasons before finally starting to break out in its fourth, then exploding in season five. (Its finale was its most-watched episode.)
Halt and Catch Fire seems unlikely to break out to that degree, but it does have a streaming deal with Netflix, and its audience seems most likely to find it there. AMC is betting those viewers just might then follow the show over to live TV, if they get as hooked on season two as many critics were. (Of course, having a monster hit like The Walking Dead buys the network a lot of latitude to take chances elsewhere.)
AMC also hasn't outright canceled a series since Low Winter Sun ended after a season in 2012. Earlier this year, the network renewed Turn, a similarly low-rated show about Revolutionary War–era spies, for a third season, and Humans, a British co-production about sentient, humanoid robots, for a second. And zombie spinoff Fear the Walking Dead got a pickup before its first season had even begun to air.
"Whenever we have the opportunity to keep something going that we think is good and for which we think there’s an audience there, we’re going to make it happen," Stillerman told me.