To be clear, no real persons alive or undead were harmed in the filming of that scene. (Your fake-guts recipe: faux blood, Vaseline, K-Y jelly. Mix and enjoy!) To be even more clear, The Walking Dead— developed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Frank Darabont from an acclaimed comic book by writer Robert Kirkman—is a monster smash, one that’s being hailed as the year’s best new series. Debuting on Halloween to record-breaking ratings for a basic-cable drama, this great and gory end-of-the-world epic has stunned industry observers by holding strong, averaging 5 million viewers a week—more than twice the average of AMC’s now-second biggest hit, Mad Men. The network has already ordered a 13-episode second season that may not arrive until next fall. That may sound like an interminable wait for fans (call them Undeadheads), especially since the first season concludes on Dec. 5 after only six episodes. Then again, Halloween does seem like the most wonderful time of the year for a zombie saga. In the words of exec producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator): “Why mess with a good thing?”
Please: Don’t. While it’s way easy to define The Walking Dead by its outrageous horror-genre violence and viscera (never has a TV series more indulged a blood-splattering head shot), what makes it a cut above is its brainy envisioning of a terrifying apocalyptic meltdown that leaves human characters struggling for physical and spiritual survival by snaring them in one moral quagmire after anothe
But already, tales of behind the scenes turmoil as Deadline reports producer Frank Darabont has let go of the entire writing staff and could possibly go to a more experimental BBC-style freelancer system, hiring various writers to write the episode. Or maybe he’ll write them all himself.
Darabont, who hails from the feature world with The Young Indiana Jones as the only series credit before Walking Dead, ended up writing 2 of the first season’s 6 episodes of Walking Dead – the pilot and the second episode – and co-writing/rewriting the other 4. Two of those 4 were written by non-staff writers, one by executive producer Robert Kirkman, on whose comics the series is based, and one by Glen Mazzara. The freelance model is employed by the Starz/BBC series Tourchwood, which in turn borrowed it from the U.K. where the show originated. Having BBC as producer has allowed Torchwood to proceed with no writing staff but I hear such a plan on an U.S.-based network series such as Walking Dead may face issues with the Writers Guild. And, while the first season of Walking Dead was only 6 episodes, its second-season order is for 13, which may prove harder to manage in pre-production, production and post-production with no writing staff. Sources tell me that no final decision has been made yet with all options open, including using some combination of a writing staff/freelances. There is time – AMC is mulling launching Walking Dead’s second season the way it did the first one – in October during Fearfest.
Darabont, director of one of the most beloved films of all time in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, has in recent years gotten a bit of a reputation as a Hollywood “maverick” — which is studio code for one of two things
1) off the rails
2) someone who doesn’t listen to what studios say
You can pick your option here. American TV shows are traditionally written “in room” with a bunch of white men who went to an Ivy League school sitting around and throwing around ideas, hammering out story points and so one.
At the BBC, assignments are given out to freelance talent, much as in the comics system. American TV’s accelerated schedule would make this a bit more complicated but perhaps it’s time to experiment.
The Walking Dead’s success is definitely kudos-worthy for whoever wants to claim birthrights — the fifth episode rated higher than even the pilot, although AMC keeps changing how they measure the ratings. It’s similar to how the comic, against all odds, built a higher and higher readership every month for years. The setup of human drama against the backdrop of constant, low level death threats is both a Darabont signature and something he handles extraordinarily well — and something that people are coming back for.
People have been kvetching about the script tropes, and yeah, the cliches of rednecks and noble nursing home attendants are a little frayed, but the execution is on a high level.
Some are wondering where this leaves creator Kirkman, who wrote episode four of the mini-season? The EW piece has Darabont and Kirkman huddling on an endgame to prevent Lost-itis, and he’s reportedly slated to write at least one episode for season two.
“My next big conversation with Robert, now that we’ve gotten through the first six, will be: ‘What is your endgame, Robert? I can’t believe I have not asked you this!’ I kinda wanna know Robert’s idea, for my own sanity and purposes,” says Darabont. “I’ll let you know what he tells me.” No worries. We’re not in a rush for The Walking Dead to die anytime soon.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.