For a show that has been the highest-rated basic cable scripted program ever, The Walking Dead has seen quite a lot of ups and downs in the three seasons it's been on the air. Still, despite shake-ups, budget-cuts and re-shoots, The Walking Dead lives on. Coming off its highest ratings ever, AMC's renewal of the show for season 4 surprised precisely no one.
Beyond that, how long will the series last?
Given the fact that the source comic, created by Robert Kirkman, is still on-going, it's theoretically possible to keep the series going indefinitely. At least that's what AMC Networks CEO Josh Kaplan hinted at today while speaking at the Barclays Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference. The network definitely hopes that zombies will live forever, since they're really just beginning to find out what the world of the show is like, according to Kaplan:
...we’ll be sitting here at the Barclays conference in 2022 discussing the fact that Walking Dead is not over …
While expressing regret at losing the soon-to-be-ending Breaking Bad and praising Mad Men, Kaplan also expressed a slight bit of worry over Netflix's initial success with original programming and defending the notion of keeping premium cable channels available as bundles. While his comments point toward continued old-model thinking when it comes to television, the blindly enthusiastic support for The Walking Dead, while to be expected, is a little worrisome - and perhaps wishful thinking.
On average, most television shows will reach four seasons before coming to an end. Game of Thrones producer Frank Doelger recently stated that he expects the show - currently more popular than ever - to end after seven seasons. Breaking Bad is coming to a pre-determined, organic ending in its fifth season. We live in an age of variety in entertainment choices that did not exist when shows like Cheers or even Friends could easily last ten seasons and then some. Our attention spans barely tolerated nine seasons of The Office and seven of 30 Rock, after all - can a gory zombie show last another decade?
The other question is: do we even want it to? The Walking Dead's source creator Kirkman has said he has a definite end in mind, but the show has already departed fairly significantly from the comic books. Given the showrunner shuffle and a network determined to stay hands-on and in control of its ratings juggernaut, the odds that AMC will eventually alienate the show's top creative minds will only increase unless they learn to back off. We are excited about the future of the show, but its longevity is an issue best handled one season at a time.
The Walking Dead season 4 premieres in October 2013 on AMC.