J. Smith-Cameron (left) and Aden Young in Rectify.
Photo: Tina Rowden/AMC
Critics have not been shy in their praise of SundanceTV’s Rectify. The Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan and Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen placed it among their top dramas of 2014, while in his review of season two last summer, Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz called it “the most subtle and quiet drama on TV.” And yet, despite the enormous acclaim, the linear audience for Rectify remains minuscule: On average, just 308,000 viewers made the show a weekly habit last season (and that’s including a week’s worth of DVR replays). While it’s unlikely Rectify is ever going to turn into a massive hit, Sundance execs believe there’s still plenty of Nielsen upside — and they’re planning an all-out push to get more people onboard. The key to the campaign: much bigger sister network AMC.
One of the biggest challenges for Rectify has had nothing to do with the show itself. The fact that it airs on SundanceTV automatically limits its Nielsen potential, since the channel is available in only 57 million homes — or about half as many as big networks such as AMC (95 million). By hyping Rectify on the channel of The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul, newly installed SundanceTV president Charlie Collier — who recently added oversight of the network to his gig running AMC — hopes millions of more potential viewers who don’t even know the show exists will get wind of it. And if only 100,000 of those viewers exposed to the show become fans, it will represent a significant ratings gain, percentage-wise, for Rectify. “We’re using the power of AMC to frame it in the most positive light and bring as many people as possible to it,” Collier says. “Rectify really is that ‘best show you’re not watching,’ and there are so few shows of that quality that can legitimately be called that.”
The “Watch Rectify, Dammit” effort began several weeks ago. That’s when AMC started airing promos during its Mad Men pre-finale marathon, urging the Don Draper crowd to check out the first two seasons of the Sundance show on its streaming home, Netflix. The next phase begins in the overnight hours Monday: AMC is doing a catch-up marathon of all 16 episodes, with promos directing those who might not have Netflix (or are just insomniacs) to DVR the show between now and June 19. Sundance is also partnering with satellite provider DISH to make the network available to all subscribers between June 30 and August 14. This means all DISH customers will be able to catch a July 4 marathon of Rectify seasons one and two, as well as every episode of season three. Finally, AMC is lending Sundance several feature films from its movie library in order to give linear episodes of Rectify on Sundance an extra boost, starting with Erin Brockovich the night of the July 9 season premiere.
All of this effort might seem a bit old-school in this age of streaming and video-on-demand. After all, anyone who’s wanted to watch Rectify between seasons has been able to do so easily via Netflix. But while streaming can be key to building audiences for a younger show — hence those Mad Men promos — Collier believes traditional linear platforms can still be highly effective in wooing viewers. For one thing, most TV homes don’t subscribe to Netflix and thus can’t binge the show that way. But Collier also notes that when The Walking Dead was in the process of becoming a monster smash, AMC noticed huge ratings spikes for reruns of the show on AMC, as well as big numbers for TWD marathons and for cable video on-demand plays of the show. “We want to be everywhere the consumer is,” Collier says. For many potential viewers, that means digital (either Netflix or iTunes). “But you really do have to take into account every platform,” he says. “It all works. That’s why … we’re doing everything we can to focus the attention of both AMC and Sundance on what I believe is a rare gem with Rectify.”
One promotional ploy Collier has ruled out, for now, is airing new episodes of Rectify on AMC. Cross-network launches have become a bit more common of late among cable conglomerates, which will sometimes launch shows on multiple networks in their portfolio. Indeed, the recent season premiere of BBC America’s already successful Orphan Black aired on all of the AMC Networks channels, including Sundance, AMC, and IFC. Collier, however, wants to take care not to blur the lines too much between AMC and Sundance. “Having AMC and Sundance as distinct brands is important,” he says. “Long before I got here, [the exec team] built something that really stands on its own. It’s a very different channel than AMC. So we’re not trying to take [Rectify] and put it everywhere. What we’re trying to do is to shine a light on it because it really is an incredible representation of what Sundance can be at its best.” Getting more people to watch Rectify is also sort of personal for Collier: He developed the show at AMC, long before he took over day-to-day oversight of the network. It moved to Sundance because it was seen as a better fit for the smaller channel’s mandate to make the TV equivalent of arthouse and independent films.