I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned my general frustration with season one of AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book The Walking Dead. But I don’t hate the show, or even dislike the show, I just think it has so much potential to be far better than it is. As a whole, the direction, make-up, effect, set artists capture the necessary tone and ambiance, and I dig heavily on Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, but the rest of it needs a lot of work. The acting and writing isn’t terrible, it could simply be better. I want the series to succeed. I want it to be the greatest show on Earth. At the moment, though, I question whether AMC wants the same thing.
When the series was immediately picked up by AMC for a second season, after the staggeringly good premiere episode directed by film professional Frank Darabont, it seemed like a good sign. I thought the fact that the pick-up meant thirteen episodes instead of another six, could definitely help alleviate issues that lead to my own criticisms (characters making obviously bad decisions being A#1). But Kim Masters’ piece at The Hollywood Reporter on AMC’s firing of showrunner Frank Darabont, rather than the initial reports that he stepped down, as well as budget cuts per episode, and the cast and crew feeling scared for their jobs… Well, none of it can be a good thing; definitely not creatively.
AMC’s actions are especially confounding when “The Walking Dead” is unquestionably the most successful original series in terms of ratings on the network. Considering that the network also owns the show outright, rather than in partnership with Lionsgate (ala “Mad Men”) or Sony Television (re: “Breaking Bad”), this also makes it their most profitable. Not to mention, they get a 30% tax subsidy from the state of Georgia for filming in/around Atlanta — which was supposed to go back into the “The Walking Dead” budget, according to Masters, but instead went directly into AMC’s books as revenue. Of course, the network has also had dust-ups with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” showrunners and studios, eventually coming to amicable terms with both. As such, it strikes me that the zombie baby is getting the raw end of the deal, no matter how much money it makes for the circus’ ringmaster. Simply because it can’t fight back, yet.
It is important to keep in mind that the show’s budget was decided along with its pick-up back in November 2010, and everyone at “The Walking Dead” agreed to it. That is not an invalid point, but when the season finale had more viewers than the series premiere, it is not unreasonable for the parties to return to the negotiating table. Especially when the network has proven capable, if not willing, to do so in the past with other relatively less successful programs. Of course, when AMC’s head of original programming, Joel Stillerman, apparently says that (emphasis mine) “Ratings have no bearing on this conversation,” any argument Darabont, or new showrunner Glen Mazzara, might make is effectively cut off. What do you even say to something like that?
In my imagination, Frank Darabont heard those words and was stunned into silence, staring long and hard at the man across from him before throwing up his hands in disgust, and muttering, as he walked out of the room, “Then what the fuck is there to even fucking discuss?” A television show and its ratings have no bearing on one another? Since when? In terms of artistic quality, yes, of course, obviously. But in terms of finance, what else is there but ratings and the fat stacks of cash those ratings usually bring to the network that airs the TV show in question?
Insiders are saying that AMC is still figuring out how to handle their success in terms of original programming, as they’ve only been doing it since 2007. That may be true, but it’s an astoundingly flaccid reason. We’re talking about the basics of rewarding those who reward you — that’s what the entertainment business does. You only start shitting on people when they stop making you money, not when they’re just getting started. And you sure as hell don’t pull this:
“But this source says that AMC had its own ideas about how to make the show more cheaply. The show shoots for eight days per episode, and the network suggested that half should be indoors. ‘Four days inside and four days out? That’s not Walking Dead,’ says this insider. ‘This is not a show that takes place around the dinner table.’ That was just one of what this person describes as ‘silly notes’ from AMC. Couldn’t the audience hear the zombies sometimes and not see them, to save on makeup? The source says Darabont fought ‘a constant battle to keep the show big in scope and style.’”
Seriously, get it together, AMC. The last thing you want is a horde of “The Walking Dead” fandom salivating for your fetid flesh. When even its detractors are begging you to stop from pulling that trigger and blowing this promising show’s brains out, you know you’ve done a bad, bad thing.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the internet radio show We’re Not Fanboys, and is only a zombie at work and on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He really does like “The Walking Dead” season one, just not as much as you. Or as much as the comic.