We reported a few weeks ago about Frank Darabont‘s stepping down from his position as showrunner on AMC’s hit horror television series The Walking Dead following his appearance with the cast and crew at the San Diego Comic-Con just a few weeks ago to promote the show’s upcoming second season (you can read that story HERE).
Ever since last December when The Walking Dead‘s completed its first successful season, which premiered last Halloween night with a viewership of 5.3 million and a season finale that drew in 6 million watchers, there have been constant reports of behind-the-scenes battles between the network and the show’s producers, including rumors of mass firing of the writing staff (which were debunked by Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic book the show is based on, HERE ) and demands for budget cuts from AMC executives. Now it seems that the official story behind the decision of Darabont, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) who developed the series for television, to suddenly leave the show is starting to show cracks in its facade.
According to The Hollywood Reporter , Darabont was actually fired from the show and the decision was made three days after the show’s presentation at Comic-Con without his knowledge. The decision was reportedly made by Joel Stillerman, AMC’s head of original programming and executive producer Glen Mazzara will now assume Darabont’s duties as showrunner. Supposedly the decision to fire Darabont was made after he was attempting to re-edit an episode despite the network’s objections with footage that had been deemed unusable, but Darabont’s relationship with AMC has been strained ever since the show first went into production last year.
The network had pushed Darabont to abandon his approach to shooting each episode like it was a movie and were forcing the producers to cut the show’s budget by doing more indoor shooting and reducing the amount of time the zombies are on screen in order to save money on make-up effects. AMC had also announced their intention to keep every dime they save on the show thanks to a 30 percent tax break they receive from filming it in Georgia, rather than rolling that money back into the show or sharing it with the cast and crew. As Darabont himself asked rhetorically, “If you have an asset, why would you punish it?”
It seems that every time AMC has a hit show on its hands it immediately sets out to destroy it and screw over the people who made those shows successful; the network’s battles with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner were so loud and public even the Amish community could give you the gory details; the network feuded with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan (my fellow Richmonder) to the point where he almost took the show to rival network FX. But AMC eventually had to settle its differences with both Weiner and Gilligan because the network did not have ownership over either series (Lionsgate owns Mad Men; Sony owns Breaking Bad), which is not the case with The Walking Dead. AMC owns The Walking Dead outright.
The atmosphere on the show appears to be panic and fear, which you think would be a good thing given that The Walking Dead is all about people struggling to survive in a world overtaken by flesh-hungry zombies. But reportedly members of the cast are afraid to voice their real feelings out loud for fear their characters wouldn’t live to see the next exciting episode. “They’re on a zombie show,” an anonymous insider told THR. “They are all really easy to kill off.”
At the very least many of The Walking Dead‘s key production personnel, including Mazzara, Kirkman, and make-up effects supervisor Greg Nicotero, are staying with the show for the time being, but time will tell what effect Darabont’s dismissal and the network-imposed budget cuts will have on the overall quality of the show. “Frank’s fingerprints are all over every single aspect of the show,” said another unnamed source on the show to THR. “I heard a Teamster saying, ‘How are we going to do this without Frank?'”
THR has a very lengthy, informative article about the entire situation, so be sure to head over there and give it a read.
Against all odds, the second season of The Walking Dead is set to premiere on October 16, 2011.