What caused Frank Darabont to depart The Walking Dead after a single season? Long before stepping into the zombie apocalypse with The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont made his name in the cinematic realm with 1994's Stephen King adaptation, The Shawshank Redemption. While the story of Andy Dufresne failed to set the box office alight upon release, the film was nominated for a slew of awards and its reputation has swelled greatly in the new millennium. Darabont followed up with another live-action Stephen King movie - The Green Mile, which this time proved to be a critically and commercially successful venture.
In both cases, Darabont acted as writer and director, demonstrating versatility and a knack for translating a single, complete vision from page to screen. Beginning with The Green Mile, Darabont added a third hat to his collection, serving as a producer in addition to his other responsibilities.
Darabont's most famous works may have been on the silver screen, but the French-born director also dabbled in television, writing on the likes of Tales From The Crypt and directing/producing for the NBC crime drama Raines. The Walking Dead, however, represented Darabont's first major TV project and the pairing seemed like an ideal fit. So where did it all go wrong?
Frank Darabont's Contribution To The Walking Dead
Currently gearing up for its tenth season, The Walking Dead has long since moved on from the days of Frank Darabont, but the filmmaker's award-nominated contribution to the series was vital, and it's no exaggeration to say that the show may not exist without him. Already a fan of Kirkman's comic book series, Darabont took his concept for a The Walking Dead TV adaptation to several networks, eventually finding a home on AMC. Given his Hollywood background and cultural standing, Darabont was certainly a coup for AMC's Robert Kirkman project and with themes of darkness, isolation and glimmering hope (as well as a future prison setting), Darabont and The Walking Dead seemed perfectly suited.
Frank Darabont was involved in The Walking Dead throughout the early stages of its development and, in addition to his directorial and script input, played an instrumental role in establishing the tone, visual style and setup of the live-action The Walking Dead series. After spending five years getting the show up and running and helping to decide what the zombie outbreak would look and feel like, Darabont was given the honor of directing and writing the pilot episode "Days Gone Bye" - a highly rated opening gambit that still ranks as one of The Walking Dead's best.
In total, Darabont is credited as a writer on 4 out of the 6 episodes in The Walking Dead season 1 and served as an executive producer on the entire run. He also penned the season 2 premiere, "What Lies Ahead," before things turned sour.
Darabont's The Walking Dead Departure
During the production of The Walking Dead season 2, it was announced that Frank Darabont and The Walking Dead had parted ways. Initial reports claimed that problems adjusting to a heavy TV production schedule were to blame, but considering Darabont had been present at The Walking Dead's San Diego Comic Con panel only days earlier discussing the forthcoming second season, something wasn't adding up. As The Walking Dead season 2 premiered, fresh reports emerged claiming that Darabont had been fired by AMC, with the network seeking to shake up the format in response to season 1's runaway success. AMC were now looking to produce double the amount of episodes in season 2, but on a smaller budget than the six-episode first season.
Known for his cinematic ventures, Darabont openly championed The Walking Dead's epic scale and it's not hard to imagine his reaction at being told to rein things in. The initial report (via THR) even suggested that AMC were looking to film more interior scenes and cut back on the amount of zombies shown on screen. While unconfirmed, this would make sense given that The Walking Dead season 2 spent a great deal of time on the Greene farm.
Fan response to Darabont's firing was largely one of confusion. The showrunner had been involved with The Walking Dead since day one and had contributed in almost every conceivable aspect in terms of development, production, direction and writing. For all intents and purposes, The Walking Dead was Darabont's project and, needless to say, a lawsuit against AMC was filed in response to his dismissal.
Legal Battles Between AMC And Frank Darabont
The $280 million lawsuit against AMC alleges that Frank Darabont never received payment for developing The Walking Dead and was wrongfully dismissed without warning in order to avoid a contractual pay rise that would've kicked in for seasons 2 and 3. Interestingly, the lawsuit also claims that Darabont's contract had him locked-in as an executive producer for as long as The Walking Dead ran and also afforded him the opportunity to be involved in any spinoffs.
The legal complaint first arose in 2013 and is yet to be resolved, rumbling on over the past 6 years. The situation took a dramatic turn in early 2018, however, when Darabont and his talent agency filed a second lawsuit to the tune of an added $10 million. This motion claimed to have uncovered more shady financial practices by AMC that were designed to deprive producers and showrunners of their share of The Walking Dead's profits and came in the wake of similar legal action against AMC by Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara (Darabont's successor) and more. Responding to the second piece of litigation, AMC claimed pure greed was the sole motivation.
Finally, in February 2019, the New York Supreme Court's Joel Cohen announced that the ongoing legal wrangling between Darabont and AMC would go to trial, beginning on May 11th 2020 and lasting for approximately a month. Both teams claimed that this development was a victory for their respective sides but, eventually, there will only be one winner, and after a lengthy fight that has outlasted even the great Rick Grimes, that outcome will finally be decided next year.
The Walking Dead season 10 premieres October 6th on AMC.