This may well be the last piece of news about The Walking Dead that I ever post, as the kind of craziness that has been going on behind the scenes of the show involving Frank Darabont, the driving force behind the massive AMC ratings hit, leaving the series for good is often the sort of drama one hears about right before a TV show dies. The details of Darabont’s departure were sketchy at first, but new information has come to light, and it doesn’t bode well for the series or for AMC. Here are some choice snippets from an article published in The Hollywood Reporter:
When Frank Darabont appeared on a Comic-Con panel July 22 to promote The Walking Dead, he didn’t realize he was a dead man walking. Neither did the cast and crew. Everyone was shocked when news broke three days later that AMC had taken the extraordinary step of firing Darabont from the network’s biggest ratings hit.
And it gets worse.
After he (Darabont) was sent packing, he returned to give some final notes. He sent farewell e-mails to associates on the show. But he has maintained a steady silence in the media as his representatives work out the terms of his departure. Through his lawyer, Darabont said he has no interest in talking to the press. There also have been no public comments from the cast, and a source with knowledge of the situation says AMC has been “terrorizing” them and their representatives to discourage them from speaking out on Darabont’s behalf. “They’re scared,” confirms another insider. “They’re on a zombie show. They are all really easy to kill off.”
Great. Apparently AMC thinks that the best way to keep the ratings numbers up is by firing the guy behind the hit first season and intimidating the entire cast into silence. Well done, AMC, well done. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, things are even messier. Look under the cut for more info on the ridiculous turn of events…
Within a space of months, AMC has become embroiled in messy public fights with the creators of its top three shows — Mad Men, Breaking Bad and now Walking Dead. The battles have been about money, but in this case, at least, it was more of a slow burn than a sudden flare-up. Sources say last fall, even before the first episode of the show had aired, AMC let it be known that it would effectively slash the show’s second-season budget per episode by about $650,000, from $3.4 million to $2.75 million. AMC cut the budget and pocketed a tax credit previusly applied to the show. An AMC source says the size of the cut cited by sources is “grossly inflated” and that the second-season budget represents a more typical and sustainable number for a basic cable show.
At a glance, it would appear AMC is taking a big risk with its only huge commercial success. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are Emmy magnets that average 2.3 million and 4.3 million viewers, respectively. But Walking Dead, based on a series of graphic novels, attracted an astonishing 5.3 million viewers when it premiered on Halloween. The season finale in December drew more than 6 million viewers. In the 18-to-49 demo, it chalked up the biggest number ever for any drama on basic cable.
I’ve also read that the money taken away from The Walking Dead was partially being poured into Mad Men, and partially into AMC’s pocket. How stupid can you get? Don’t get me wrong – I love Mad Men – but taking money away from the series that has proven your biggest hit in its first season to support a different show, and firing Frank Darabont to boot? I don’t understand. There’s no logic behind it.
What remains a central mystery, even to those closely involved, is what triggered AMC’s move to fire Darabont. As noted, AMC’s decision to cut the budget dated to the previous fall, when the network instructed Darabont to produce 13 episodes for a second season, up from six for the first season, for less money. Not only would the show get a lower budget, but AMC also decided that Walking Dead would no longer reap the benefit of a 30 percent tax credit per episode that came with filming in Georgia. Now the network was going to hold on to that money.
So it all comes down to greed. AMC isn’t actually interested in creating quality entertainment, they just want to make a buck. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I guess I just thought that, with great shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead on their roster, AMC would be a little smarter and, perhaps, a little more committed to delivering the goods. Anyone worth his salt knows that you have to spend money to make money, and when it comes to the three aforementioned TV shows, it’s pretty clear which is the biggest moneymaker at this point. Maybe these decisions on AMC’s part would make more sense to me if The Walking Dead‘s ratings had begun to slip, but going into season 2, it’s obvious that The Walking Dead‘s ratings are going to be at an all-time high. AMC, if you’re reading this, listen up: you’re shooting your prize horse after it won its first race.
The Walking Dead season 2 starts on October 16, 2011. Will the show be able to survive Darabont’s departure and AMC’s budget cuts? Only time will tell. At least Greg Nicotero and Robert Kirkman are still involved. At least…