When Frank Darabont appeared on a Comic-Con panel July 22 to promote The Walking Dead, he didn’t realize he was a dead man walking. Neither did the cast and crew. Everyone was shocked when news broke three days later that AMC had taken the extraordinary step of firing Darabont from the network’s biggest ratings hit.
In hot, sticky Atlanta, where production on the second season had been under way since June, the cast was summoned to a lunch meeting with AMC vp scripted programming Ben Davis, who confirmed that Darabont was out. The crew was briefed separately. One insider says those gathered were stunned at “the duplicity of AMC” for having used Darabont to promote the show at Comic-Con before firing him. And they were angry about the lack of explanation; they were simply told, cryptically, “This isn’t working.” Above all, they were disheartened. “It’s a crushing blow,” says the insider. “Even when you have a hit, they can still destroy you.”
The entire Hollywood Reporter article is an eye-opener. Darabont was pissed over budget cuts to the show, which were running around $650K per episode the first season. AMC was getting a tax break for filming in Georgia, but instead of putting that toward the budget they were putting that into their coffers. As a response, Darabont turned in the season premiere episode with unusable footage.
Walking Dead was AMC’s most viewed show, far more than critical darlings Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by a large margin. As a thank you, AMC dropped significant cash on Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, cut the budget of Walking Dead, fired Darabont, terrorized the cast and crew to not say anything and basically advised them to do it as cheap as possible to save money.
Awesome. I guess that’s the downside when you want to offer premium television shows on basic cable. You’re stuck in no man’s land.