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Why AMC and FX have HBO to thank for their hit shows

At the INTV conference, HBO chief expresses regret over passing on 'Mad Men.'

Mad Men castMad Men castThe cast of 'Mad Men,' a show that HBO passed on in the mid 2000s. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels / AMC)

At the Innovative TV (INTV) conference in Jerusalem this past weekend, executives from Israeli production house Keshet Media Group hosted panel discussions with executives and producers from the best American TV has to offer. Variety has an account of the talk that Keshet CEO Avi Nir had with HBO entertainment chief Richard Plepler; one of the more interesting bits is the amount of regret he has over passing on the hit AMC show "Mad Men" in the mid-2000s.

The story of why HBO passed on Matthew Weiner's show, whose final seven episodes start on April 5, has been circulating since at least 2009, in stories told by Vanity Fair and others: Weiner's boss on "The Sopranos," David Chase, gave HBO the pilot script, which Weiner wrote in 2001. The network wanted Chase to executive produce the show along with Weiner, but Chase refused, as he was about to wrap up "The Sopranos" and didn't want to be involved in another series.

HBO passed after that, even though they didn't really have a show that could take the place of "The Sopranos" quality-wise at the time. "I think a little bit of hubris set in, we got a little bit complacent, and from 2002 to 2007, we made some mistakes," he told Nir at the conference.

But "Mad Men" wasn't the only show the network passed on during that time period. In fact, AMC, and to a lesser extent, FX, have HBO to thank for giving those networks their biggest hit shows over the last eight years: "Breaking Bad," "Sons of Anarchy" and, most egregiously, ratings juggernaut "The Walking Dead."

Imagine the zombie epic that gets 15 million viewers per week enhanced with HBO-level creative freedom and no commercials. AMC executives Joel Stillerman and Bruce Tuchman are also at the conference; let's hope someone asks them whether they appreciate HBO's mid-aughts programming stumbles. They at least owe Plepler a steak dinner, right?

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