‘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. Worst. Decision. Ever.
    Here’s hoping another network recognises the brilliance of FD’s Walking Dead and buys it out from under AMC.
    Here’s hoping Darabont buys AMC and fires Stillerman. Then puts him in a room full of zombies.

  2. I watched The Walking Dead partly because Frank Darabont was the showrunner. Anyone else remember the masterpieces that were The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile ? What is this douche, Stillerman khows known for? Cutting his shows budgets, strong arming negotiations for returning shows, and helping make the creative process hell for the people that are winning them all the accolades and acclaim. If they mess with Breaking Bad I’m not watching the network anymore.

  3. Well I say boycott then, don’t need to watch the hijacked series.Joel Stillerman is a typical head honcho prick.

  4. Cutting the budget is one stupid thing, then asking for double the episodes. Wow that just screams, “Screw the quality”. Well guess the pay channels are going to be the only place getting any series that might actually cost money to make. I’m already about ready to cut half my cable off since there are more channels then shows to even air on them.

    • Like starting two wars and cutting revenue….Right up there with bright ideas in America

      • I’m still waiting for hope and change. Looks like I’ll be waiting a while…

  5. where is kirkman in all this.Frank Darabont makes thim a hit and they fire him? ill stick with the comic book. thanks amc i forgot why i hate tv.

  6. Thanks for the story ScreenRant! Very good info and a lot of it.

    At least now we know almost for a fact who and what will be behind the possible and probable demise of Walking Dead.

    I’m still in awe that they would treat a show that has brought them so many viewers, awards, etc. like that (and its creators, actors, etc.) Shame on you AMC.

  7. Lets start a boycott I still haven’t watched NBC after the Conan screwing

  8. On top of the many dumb aspects to these actions is the one thing they don’t seem to get that HBO does….Even if the production runs in the red for airing it will generate revenue in seasons box sets if done right. Cutting the quality is not doing it right. For me a prime example is one of HBO’s…The Saprano’s I have the first three seasons because they were pretty great…The fourth season didn’t do much and the fifth was on a death roll out of the gate. I don’t know why the last two seasons went down hill so bad, but I sure didn’t want to fork over money for them. Same here…If I liked the series I might one day buy each season afer I haven’t seen it a while, but not if the short season one wasn’t followed with equal talented showings…

  9. Morons. This could very well ruin the show.

  10. I am curious as to Stillerman/AMC’s side of the story, because this makes no sense whatsoever. The show is a hit, critics and viewers like it. An order of more eps may not degrade (or improve) quality, but it does require more in the budget regardless, comprompise or no compromise. Smart people will see what is working and what isn’t. Don’t misunderstand: I am, like most of you, siding somewhat with Darabont here. But where I’m going with this is that I’m only hearing one side to the story as written above. Since the “reasons” make no sense, something has to.

    Stillerman and Darabont not getting along and creative differences would be suffice. Putting this outrageous action on cutting budgets and cracking a whip villifies Stillerman. Yes, his job may be on the line, but if a network cannot afford a show, just cancel it . I know that’s a strong tone and some of you won’t like me much for saying that, but there you go. Now if I were the new blood behind the show I’d wrap up as many story threads possible.

    The Walking Dead’s days are numbered.

    • Actually it makes a lot of sense in as far as how executives typically operate in the real world.


      Failure is a description reserved for those who work for me
      All success is either directly attributable to me or is indirectly connected to me or some action I have taken
      All failure is the sole responsibility of others
      When something is profitable starting trimming the fat till it becomes unprofitable and then put the responsibility of the failure on someone else.
      My sole duty is to beating shareholders expectations by the next quarter
      I am over worked, underpaid and under appreciated
      My employees are overpaid and under worked thereby necessitating the need for cut backs and lay offs

      Gurtner (CEO at IBM) used this Creed to great effect, enough so that he made IBM stockholders a sizeable profit. Granted he ended the career of thousands of dedicated employees who had been at IBM more then %50 of their life and also managed to drive out of IBM all traces of company pride and employee dedication to IBM but that’s OK because none of those are in the Executive Mission Creed.

      This Stillerman fellow is doing what most executive level idiots in business do, cut costs while raising profits by the next quarterly stockholders meeting. Executives are normally incapable of seeing beyond the next 1 to 2 quarters and so the actions they take seem logical and responsible to them. This same short term approach to business profits is prevalent in nearly every industry. In manufacturing these same idiots drive production off shore to lower costs and increase profits. They can’t see the fact that if even a majority of businesses o this then in a short time there will be no customers left.

      In the entertainment industry the success of a show/series is not because of the quality of its production or of its talent but is due to its marketing and or hitting on a topic hot with the public and therefore the same product can be successfully done with a much cheaper set of talent or a talentless group all together. When that approach fails they don’t then admit it was a mistake to get rid of that which made the series popular but that the series idea or angle was played out and that’s why the shows run was over.

      These same imbeciles will continue to dominate the boards of corporations in all industries until the people say enough and stop letting them do as they like with no repercussion. If just one of these idots can get fired by enough stockholders pushing for it then perhaps that would send a message to the rest of this pack of idiots.

      Can you tell I’m PO’d with these executives?

      • Umm, yep and what your saying makes allot of sense…

    • It is a wise person who wants to hear both sides before making a judgement as there are two sides to everything. The budget cut is addressed over at the AMC site and what they said is that there wasn’t a budget cut but rather there will be more episodes that have to share the same budget. This is not that unreasonable as the 6 episodes were the pilot and second season had to be at least twice that. Also what was not mentioned here is that Darabont didn’t leave until he had worked through half of season 2. So those who noticed a lack of Darabont right away as season 2 began were wrong.

  11. Never saw the show but I like Frank Darabount.
    Stillerman = Pigvirus from Private parts. May zombies eat his little noots and pickle

    • That Pigvomit to you lol

  12. Thus ends a show being good. But you any money that the second season is going to bomb.

  13. I’m interested in AMC’s side of the story as well. To their credit…they’ve produced some damn good shows with no parent company. And more importantly, they took all the risks in bringing The Walking Dead to life, so to speak.

    Bashing them seems a bit much, though I understand where most of it is coming from. Losing Darabont was a huge disappointment that could very well affect the show’s quality and longevity.

    Stillerman does sound like a hatchet man that creative types from AMC’s other shows don’t get along with either. If he’s the problem, AMC could still make things right by firing him and bringing back Darabont. The problem is, Stillerman was most likely told what AMC could afford…and that won’t change no matter who he’s replaced with. No show gets to operate with a blank check. As great as the show is (I love it), the creative folks need to understand it is a business. And yes, the business folks need to understand they need to loosen the reigns for the creativity to thrive.

    People should cut AMC some slack…but they do need to address this Stillerman guy. Darabont’s departure should make the network reevaluate who is conducting their business.

    • its hard to give AMC slack when the same argument is coming from breaking bad, and mad men. the only thing that protected these shows was the fact that AMC don’t own them. The parent companies where going to take there shows else where if AMC didn’t do what’s right by there shows.

      • AMC’s side? They’re just going to write up some bland, generic, corporate-approved press release, or they’re going to express the usual corporate arrogance and blame everyone else, and specifically Darabont for not being a good little boy and doing what he was told.

        50% indoors? 50% outdoors? What a joke. All the decisions sound like they’re being made by the greedy bean-counters. I’d hate to see if the AMC executives were coaches. Their only advice, before each game, would be: “DON’T F UP!!”

  14. I was such a fan of this show and was so anxiously waiting for the second season!!! If dey change actors be sure that they’ll lose this fan!!!!

  15. Well this situation su*ks. Maybe the real Hollywood story was that Darabont was just making too much money for his own good?!. wouldn’t this make the perfect turnoff though, to insult you by cutting the budget, doubling the workload and taking the show bonus money on top of everything else? Things are tough, tough, tough, tough, tough in the city of dreams.

    Darabont should’ve kept his mouth shut wrote a letter and mailed it to the top exec at AMC in care of himself then presented it with his resignation when the show went into the toilet, after the changes the mid-management demanded had done their work…

  16. Can’t we just hear the zombies!? is this guy serious? Frank Darabont was the reason this show became a success plain and simple.

  17. Walking Dead Season 02 is DOA. Screw these pencil pushers!

  18. Why do producers feel its necessary to ruin everything that is fantastic and turn it into crap?

  19. Pardon my language, but screw AMC! They are gonna screw up a great show. These corporate pigs are going to mangle this masterpiece until the point of its extinction! Good for Frank Darabont for standing up to those ignorant, greedy, unintelligent snakes. I do not think with the shows ratings and income from commercials that they were in any need to cut production costs. 50% indoors / 50% outdoors and hearing not seeing zombies… Well you might as well just change the name of The Walking Dead to Days of our Lives! Frank Darabont needs to be hired back to the team! This was his dream along with many of the viewers. Such a perfect harmony of horror and drama that stayed true to the comic yet appealed to everyday television viewers not just horror fans and comic readers. Joel Stillerman should be disemboweled and eaten!!!

  20. 50 percent indoors? What really hooked me on this series were the outdoors city scenes! I was amazed because of what the incredible production cost must have been and impressed that they were taking such a large chance on sinking that much money into this type of series. I am a huge zombie fan and almost couldnt believe that AMC was going all out with a series of this fashion. I thank AMC for rolling the dice but was dissappointed with a mere 6 episode first season that left me reeling for more. I cant wait for the second season and I hope the changes and budget restraints dont change my pure enjoyment of the series. I can understand the difficulties and cant blame AMC but if its getting the ratings and earning a larger share then I think they are making a big mistake with some of the decisions they are making. As for stillerman, he reminds me of alot of people that I have worked for myself that have no vision, intelligence or even the modest experience to perform the job correctly. I think he should be tanked regardlesss. I dont think he thinks much more about anything than his next meal, glass of booze, girl conquest or vacation he gets to take at the expense of his handlers.

  21. Wish this was on HBO, would have been 1,000 times better, and i hope so much they dont screw this up on season 2

  22. I really like the show, and the books. I don’t find going from 6 episodes to 13 to be a part of ‘the’ problem or a problem. I felt the 1st season consisting of 6 episodes was too few and led to a loss of time for character development and uneven pacing ( a stunted miniseries spread across six weeks vs six days). . but that is past. 13 seems long enough without dragging.

    As for the firing, it adds to the fears that the network doesn’t know how to handle this property. Yes, they did better than per say NBC would have done being a cable network, but the dangling of the purse strings is tangling the creative process and can be just as emotionally damaging as any meddling network with more financial resources. Hopefully product placements and famous cameos for sale will not become the prime method of funding . . .

  23. I’m not a big ‘zombie’ fan, so I was surprised when I found myself anticipating every episode of this series. I was in awe of the effects and expansive camera work (for a TV series).

    I even told my daughter the scene where they chopped the zombie’s legs off and covered themselves in gore to ‘smell’ like the dead was one of the most realistic TV scenes I’d ever seen.

    I knew something like this would happen, I just thought it would’ve taken 3 or 4 years longer before the suits managed to screw up a good thing. My bad I guess.
    The only positive is that the first few episode were probably already done while Darabont was still onboard, so they may not suck. The previews of the survivors breaking down on the interstate seem pretty expansive to me, however they’ll probably move it indoors following that, to cheapen things up. You know, focus on closeups, inside houses and ‘alley’ shots.

    I think I might need to find something else to watch on Oct. 16th rather than watch this amazing show suffer a slow death.

  24. Greed. What a joke.

  25. I just forked over a bit over 80 dollars for the limited edition blu-ray. To be honest, this is the only show AMC had every produced that I have had interest in, other than that I much enjoy HBO. I am very disappointed to hear that my favorite show of all time has a high probability of being completely ruined. Needless to say, if the second season bombs, i wont be rushing out in the rain again all the way downtown to search for a copy.

    I’m extremely bothered by this.

    Well, good thing I have the comics. :/

  26. Honestly this guy sounds like a total prik. If he honestly has a big enough ego to believe that he is responsible for the success of the shows and not the producers, i’d like to see if he lasts much longer. It’s men like these that completely ruin things when they were just fine the way they were. I hardly ever rant, but i now hate this man with a burning passion.

  27. The fact that a channel named after American Movie Classics would air this disgusting, dehumanizing garbage in the first place is the only shock here. Looks like someone came to their senses at last.

    • Have you even seen the show? I mean really watched it? The zombie aspect is the draw, but the human interaction in the face of catastrophe is the real substance of the show. This same theme has been explored in countless “classics” such as “The Poisedon Adenture” and “Apocalypse Now”. Last time I checked, there aren’t a lot of zombie shows where the lead character takes pity on an immobilized zombie and apologizes by saying, “I’m sorry this happened to you”. Not trying to be insulting, but you sound like the same type of right winger that decries abortion while bombs drop on innocent children in Baghdad. Why don’t you give the show a chance before you call it “disgusting, dehumanizing garbage”? I doubt you could get through the first episode without enjoying it if you’re capable of getting that holy roller chip off your shoulder for that long.

      • don’t feed the troll!

      • Agreed.

  28. WHAT!? Frank was fired? He’s the reason I started watching. One night I was up late, and I came across “last call with Carson Daly”. Frank was a guest. He started talking about the show and how excited he was. And I was like, “hell yeah imma watch!” I was already 4 episodes behind but caught up. So I know I’m a little late with this news but that makes me sad. Hopefully the show keeps thriving. And this executive over at AMC: Be carful because this could bite you in the a**! peace out y’all!