Fans of AMC’s hit horror series THE WALKING DEAD should add this thoroughly disheartening but informative article from The Hollywood Reporter to their must-read list, compiling quotes from sources inside the cable network and the show to paint a clearer picture of why showrunner Frank Darabont was unceremoniously canned last month.
Kim Masters’ article opens to confirm that Darabont was blindsided with his firing by AMC execs, namely Joel Stillerman, in charge of AMC’s original programming. Neither writer/director/executive producer Darabont nor the cast members promoting Season Two of THE WALKING DEAD at San Diego’s Comic-Con this July had any clue such a decision had already been made and loomed over Darabont’s immediate future.
Masters quotes an unnamed insider from the show who stated, “It’s a crushing blow,” and continued, “Even when you have a hit, they can still destroy you.” It’s bad enough that the cast and crew weren’t informed of Darabont’s impending departure, but they weren’t even given a specific reason when AMC exec Ben Davis broke the news beyond, “This isn’t working.”
The main conflict set up in THR’s story today is Frank Darabont as a tough, uncompromising filmmaker who fought daily battles against the downscaling of THE WALKING DEAD’s on-screen scope and detail versus the AMC brass continually wanting to cut the show’s high per-episode production budget. Many considered AMC’s unprecedented ratings boost as plenty of justification to let Darabont, fellow show creators, cast and crew to make Season Two under the same formula of success. It seems AMC, who owns the series outright — unlike its other hits BREAKING BAD or MAD MEN — balked at increasing the show’s budget since the network also takes all the financial risk in producing it. To reduce their risk, AMC was insisting on decreased budgets, a 50/50 split of location and indoor shooting, and . . . get this, fewer zombie appearances each week to save on the makeup costs by walking corpse wizard Greg Nicotero.
Darabont and others, pressing their case that AMC shouldn’t hamstring their new hit show by slashing the budgets which gave THE WALKING DEAD its distinctive, viewer-grabbing style, engaged in daily arguments in favor of quality over dollar savings. It wasn’t long after that zombie-chopping axe from Season One’s episode Guts fell on Darabont’s tenure as showrunner.
Was this shocking move — which caught both WALKING DEAD fans and industry insiders utterly off guard — a badly-handled case of too much success (and risk) for AMC to cope with as a neophyte show owner? Was Darabont fighting the good creative fight for a series he helped launch and personally molded into its hit style, or was he simply battling executives who were confining his creative vision to meet the realities of TV series production?
To put it in terms of the zombie-filled series itself: was Frank Darabont biting the hand that fed him, or did AMC just cut off its own arm to save a few bucks on long-sleeve shirts? Either way, these surprising, dissent-inspiring results appear satisfying or comforting to no one, which is the last thing the cable network should have burdened the series with after its hit freshman season.
Read THR’s complete article on Darabont’s departure and AMC’s bungled publicity mess in handling this high-profile transition to judge for yourself. FilmEdge supported THE WALKING DEAD before it debuted last October and we continue to hold optimistic hopes for its continued success in its second season. We also support Darabont’s continued creative efforts and are quite saddened to see him leave this uniquely entertaining show behind.
Our prospects for another hit season of THE WALKING DEAD seemed like a slam dunk just a month ago, but now the creative doubts and reported downsizing of the show with replacement exec producer Glen Mazzara at the helm has FilmEdge and other fans more than a bit unsettled about its future. That’s probably not the kind of scares AMC was hoping to inspire when THE WALKING DEAD return on October 16th.