Will the dead have the same bite without Frank Darabont?
Fired as showrunner of "The Walking Dead" shortly after he appeared at Comic-Con International for a promotional panel, Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile”) helped steer the series to ratings glory when it premiered Oct. 31, 2010.
The series -- pulling in more adults 18 to 49 than any other show in the history of cable television -- was hailed as one of the best new shows of the year and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series and for Best Drama Series by the Critics' Choice Television Awards.
AMC appeared on top of the world in the wake of Season 1's success and also seemed to carry a new level of cool.
But like the producers who canned Richard Donner during the back-to-back filming of "Superman" and "Superman II" in 1978, AMC now seems more interested in squandering their successful formula. After all, Donner's firing lead to the complete collapse of a franchise.
"It's a crushing blow," an insider told The Hollywood Reporter. "Even when you have a hit, they can still destroy you."
It's hard to imagine that "The Walking Dead" could be the next "Superman III," yet AMC -- who seems fronted by aloof suits transfixed by fat money bags -- is tampering with their successful juggernaut. They ordered budget cuts for Season 2. Are they really that cash strapped?
The cuts apparently upset Darabont, who was ready to fight to maintain the show's quality and epic scope.
According to reports, AMC slashed the show's second-season budget per episode by about $650,000 and also pocketed a tax credit previously applied to the show for shooting in Georgia.
"Creatively, I have no complaints thus far," Darabont told The Hollywood Reporter. "But I believe if they do move ahead with what they're talking about, it will affect the show creatively … in a negative way. Which just strikes me as odd. If you have an asset, why would you punish it?"
"Frank fights for the show," says an insider. "He doesn't just do what the network wants him to do. … He's a filmmaker, and that's why the show was as good as it was."
Taking the helm from Darabont is Glen Mazzara ("The Shield"), who penned Episode 5 and who signed aboard as an executive producer following Season 1. He is backed by executive producers Gale Anne Hurd ("Aliens") and Robert Kirkman.
I'm now worried about the role of Kirkman, who pens the acclaimed comic that the series is based on. He's new to the network world. But Hurd, she's a Hollywood heavyweight and hardly seems like a push over. You have to wonder where she was during AMC's meltdown.
As for Mazzara, I won't knock him. His credits are strong. However, how long will it be before AMC stamps him as a liability with too much vision? Fairly soon we may find the network eying a new showrunner like "House of the Dead" director Uwe Boll. Horror fans know Boll's record. Perhaps AMC would feel more comfortable flaunting his resume.
See more on the story of Darabont's exit at The Hollywood Reporter.
Season 2 of "The Walking Dead" premieres Oct. 16 at 9 p.m. ET.
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