Right after Frank Darabont was seen singing the praises/promoting his highly successful AMC series The Walking Dead at San Diego Comic Con, it was announced that he was leaving the show. That seemed odd at the time, what with the whole “He was just promoting that show at Comic Con and seemed pretty psyched about it” thing. It seemed odd for good reason — Darabont didn’t leave the show. He was fired. By AMC. The people who put him up on stage to promote the show from which they were about to fire him. AMC — a network afraid of its own success. Or just unable to understand it.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the cast and crew were offered no explanation for the firing — which took place while Darabont was trying to salvage an episode full of unusable footage — and are now all fearing for their jobs if they are caught offering their opinions on it. No, seriously:
… 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.”
Specific reasons for Darabont’s ouster have not been stated, so that leaves nothing for anyone to do but speculate: One theory is that there were budget issues with increasing the number of episodes and Darabont was unwilling to compromise the quality of the show, which he had always treated on the level of a film production. AMC had also proposed in what was referred to as a “silly note” to shoot half of the show indoors, half of it outdoors. (Which, when you have a show that involves the invasion of zombies and the survivors’ need to hide in the woods, etc., this makes exactly zero sense.) Also: save money on special effects by not showing the zombies. Yeah. Don’t show the walking dead on The Walking Dead, just the zombie sounds. (The Moaning-From-a-Distance Dead.) On top of this, Darabont is also, to paraphrase, “a notorious pain in the ass” to work with, however coming out of the piece on THR, no one seemed to care. Probably because they were on a hit show.
Which makes this firing even more baffling: Darabont’s efforts as showrunner gave AMC one of its biggest ratings successes ever, breaking records not just for AMC, but for cable; its season finale in December brought in 6 million viewers, and in the coveted 18-49 demographic, “it chalked up the biggest number ever for any drama on basic cable.” (Although, AMC’s head of original programming Joel Stillerman says, “Ratings have no bearing on this conversation.”)
To get a little more insidery, it seems as if these issues have a lot to do with the fact that The Walking Dead is the only one of AMC’s three hit shows that is fully owned by AMC and not another studio. (Mad Men is owned by Lionsgate, Breaking Bad by Sony Television.) This means that AMC is both in charge of deciding the budget and taking the big financial risk and also reaping the most benefits, setting up a situation reminiscent of a snake eating its own tail. And apparently, considering the recent struggles AMC has been having with the crews on its two other shows, AMC has no idea how to deal with having hit shows after all those years of showing old movies.
Darabont had no comment on his departure. And if AMC ever has an explanation, we’ll be reporting it.
Have a tip we should know? email@example.com