‘The Walking Dead': Why Frank Darabont Was Fired & The Chaotic Aftermath

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 6th, 2013 at 2:00 pm,

The news of Frank Darabont stepping down from AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead took everyone by surprise. This feeling grew even more when it was revealed that Darabont didn’t step down, but was actually fired.

With fans seeking to find out why the man who championed last year’s television phenomenon was unceremoniously fired days after appearing at Comic-Con 2011, The Hollywood Reporter is presenting the facts as they know them – including the chaotic mess in which The Walking Dead season 2 currently finds itself.

Shortly after his appearance at Comic-Con, Darabont returned to Los Angeles to work on editing an episode of the upcoming second season of The Walking Dead. With the cast in Atlanta to continue filming, Ben Davis, AMC vice-president of scripted programming, gathered the cast together for a lunch meeting. In this meeting, he broke the news that Darabont had been fired. With a simple explanation of “This isn’t working,” sources close to the series said that “It’s a crushing blow” and that “Even when you have a hit, they can still destroy you.”

Even though The Walking Dead proved to be a hit – and it is the only series that AMC owns completely – the network had already announced to the producers that they would not only be cutting the budget of the series from $3.4 million to $2.7 million, but that they would also want 13 episodes produced instead of 6 episodes that made up its first season. To make matters worse, AMC also told the producers that the 30% tax credit that the series receives from filming in Georgia would go directly to the network, and not make up for some of the money that was taken out of the production budget.

The Walking Dead @ Comic-Con

AMC’s fiscal irresponsibility and their lack of appreciation for those who make The Walking Dead is largely what led to Darabont being fired. Originally taking the announcement of a second season budget cut in stride, the producers of the series decided to wait until the first season premiered. After The Walking Dead began breaking ratings records for the network, the producers assumed their budget wouldn’t be cut as much as originally thought.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened – and Darabont wasn’t too happy about it. Known as a man who fights for what he believes in, a confrontation between AMC and The Walking Dead producers occurred. With the head of original programming for AMC, Joel Stillerman, sticking to the cut budget, the network than began to overstep their bounds and attempt to tell Darabont how to produce the series.

Instead of long, sprawling outdoor scenes, the network wanted the second season of The Walking Dead to occur 50% outdoors and 50% indoors (indoors being cheaper to film). Another note asked whether or not the audience had to always see the zombies – couldn’t they simply hear them sometimes.

Head of Original Production for AMC Jack Stillerman (on the right)

It’s been said that Darabont was involved in constant battles with the network to maintain the creative vision that drew so many fans to the series in the first place. On top of that, sources say that Darabont “doesn’t like to see the cast and crew overworked and underpaid.” Even with record ratings on their side, Darabont would repeatedly enter meetings with Stillerman where he would simply say, “Ratings have no bearing on this conversation.” Stillerman is somewhat known for not being the “best person” to deal with. With rumors persisting that he has poor relationships with most of AMC’s series creators, insiders have begun to say that “Joel [Stillerman] thinks he is responsible for the success of shows on AMC, and not the creators.”

With AMC making a leap into the forefront of scripted television, there’s always been a sense of the network going through growing pains. Not only is AMC doing it on their own (they have no parent company to support them), but they’re also trying to maintain a quality which rivals that of their pay-cable counterparts, HBO and Showtime.

Unfortunately, AMC only makes 60 cents for each cable subscriber, which isn’t enough to maintain the level of quality they were once able to do when they weren’t expected to pay the same amount as the other networks for programming. That being said, it’s hard to really stand up for a network that’s being championed by someone who’s a complete contrarian to the creative process.

walking dead comic cast The Walking Dead: Why Frank Darabont Was Fired & The Chaotic AftermathThe cast of The Walking Dead

Even if AMC was trying to do what’s best for the network (without having to operate at a loss – something that HBO does, but is evened out by HBO being owned by Time Warner), there comes a point when taking a loss for the quality of the product is more important for the long term.

As the saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.”

AMC has been waiting a long time to make it this far. Jumping from simply replaying old movies to creating original content – this all comes with a price. While not everything will make the financial return that you’re hoping for, it rarely does when you’re first starting out. And for AMC, they’re most certainly starting out.

Hopefully AMC will make it through these growing pains intact. If not, you can sure bet that there are many other cable networks willing to take over in the place (and have the money to do it).

Now that Glen Mazzara is taking over for Frank Darabont, we’ll have to wait and see what happens when The Walking Dead season 2 premieres.

Fingers crossed.

The Walking Dead season 2 premieres October 19 on AMC

Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyocasio

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

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  1. R.I.P Walking Dead

  2. Yep, my guess is the series will bomb. AMC can KMA.

  3. What a bunch of idiots getting rid of FD, season 1 was awesome

  4. Honestly, AMC should just swallow their pride and hand off this show to another network to mother. Should should have went to FX in the first place. At least they treat their shows with some respect.

    RIP The Walking Dead

  5. Greed begets greed looks like AMC have gotten very greedy. More episodes less cash. That is really going to work.

  6. The big budget feel was one of the best things the show had going for it, now it will look and feel cheap.

  7. It’s too bad this wasn’t picked up by HBO instead.

  8. Well this Stillerman certainly has some enemies now. AMC is starting to look like NBC with all of this nonsense.

  9. I mean, who gets a chance to work on a project with Frank Darabont and break viewing records? if AMC fails to see and understand this, then i say this should go to Showtime, they’ve done a fantastic Job with Dexter.

  10. When Kurt Sutter is your voice of reason about something, you’re in trouble 😉 He’s been very vocal about this too.

    Move the show to FX or a premium network, please. I want Walking Dead to succeed. I feel like I should give up on AMC except that I don’t want WD to suffer.

  11. Hmmmm, “The Walking Dead” season 2, a zombie show with no zombies. Not looking, sorry, sounding good.

  12. Kudos to Frank for standing up to Stillerman and sticking to his guns. Stillerman needs fired, not Frank. I agree with everyone else, the show just signed it’s death certificate. It was a really great show, pretty true to the source, with good effects……. was …..

  13. Screw you AMC, first you try to mess with Mad Men and now Walking Dead?

  14. Well that sucks for the fans.

  15. What a shame. I really liked that series.

  16. Mad Men, TWD, Breaking Bad are arguably the best shows on TV and AMC treats the creators like they are making reality shows. A zombie show w/o zombies? It sounds like Stillerman read a copy about the making of Jaws and now thinks it should apply to everything. It’s to bad because I really thought this season of TWD was going to be even better than the 1st but now I seriously have my doubts.

  17. I loved the series, it was made well even though it’s a Zombie show with a teen rating. Guess it will go down hill from here. Stillerman is a jerk and should be fired. You don’t get a hit then cut the budget and expect more, than implement creative boundaries like having to film inside 50% of the time. This is insane, AMC was beginning to do well now they are screwed by screwing the fans. I hope HBO comes out with their own Zombie show and hires Frank to write it with a budget he needs.

    We should all write AMC and let em’ know what we think.

  18. awwww the walking dead is an awesome series!! i just hope they dont cancel it after the second season

  19. Please make this show perfect like you guys did like with the last season and a word of evice bring back frank Darabont because he knows exactly what he is doing and the guy is a genius and plus I didn’t even like AMC until I sal this show this is the best show on AMC nothing can beat this show watching this makes me feel like I’m actully watching a zombie movie it’s so cool nothing like this has been done like this all I’ve have to say now is stop cuttin bugits because if you spend more money on it then a lot more people will watch it and you will make more money but really good job on the show

  20. i hope it fails and the network sales the rights to HBO. a walking dead..true blood weekend sounds awesome to me.

  21. I fu**ing knew it was about money – I just knew it, especially with AMC trying to cut Madmen’s episodes for the next season (a show I don’t even watch but…..).

    They are really testing me – they kill Rubicon before it could really get it’s steam and yet they KEEP The Killing. They give the Madmen creator static about budget and number of episodes, and now they dump Darabont.


    They better let Gilligan finish out Breaking Bad the way he wants as that is arguably the best scripted TV out right now.

    AMC is really starting to lose me as a supporter of their shows…..

    • Agreed

  22. It always boils down to some “pinhead” suit like stillerman. They finally get a decent “HIT” and then ruin it before its even become a TRUE hit. What an idiot.

  23. I can’t believe the second season hasn’t even started yet and the network has already screwed the pooch . hopefully they’ll wise up or it;ll get put on a channel that can do it justice

    • like SPIKE TV?

    • More then likely they will keep the property out of spite.

  24. Everyone take step back. We don’t know how much of this is actually true or if it went down the way it’s presented. This is all here say. Let’s wait until the season starts before judging anything. If it’s obvious (and I mean obvious, not fan-boy nit-picks) that the series is suffering, then we can all burn AMC in effigy.

    • Except for those of us who have seen this happen a hundred times before on TV and now the cable networks. Name me one series that got better as the network pull the plug on their money? When you lose the people that made the series good and then cut the quality the fans will notice and you can only take it for so long. Add in that the new fans they will hope to pick up will see the new products and assume that the episodes before are of the same low quality. They did this to the original Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica, Buck Rogers, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Man, etc, etc, etc.

      • Dont forget Smallville

  25. Stillerman should have been the one fired.

    Bring back Darabont.

  26. Another example of network suit doing what they do best: pointless bull$h!t to justify their paychecks, and f$%king everything up while they do it.

  27. well, I will no longer watch the show and i will not every buy or own or anything else to do with this show. There’s plenty of other stuff out there. AMC is now THE WALKING DEAD. that’s the news, I’m Dennis Miller, and I am outta here.

  28. this stillerman fella sounds like a typical hollywood Ahole. I agree, fire him and bring back darabont, that man has integrity. I want to support this show, but at the same time i dont what to support whats being done to it.. quite the conundrum.

  29. Another prime example of how the Stupidity of network executives will kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg every time. Like bureaucrats of any corporation they think they can always make something just as good for less money and when it fails they will blame the fans and not their meddling. It has been happening in television since the 60’s.

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