The Walking Dead changed television history 11 years ago today when it aired on AMC’s primary cable channel.
Based on the comic books by Tony Moore, Robert Kirkman, and Charlie Adlard, the series unabashedly explored horror when cable television was populated mainly with characters grounded in reality.
AMC was best known for its 1960’s-set soap opera Mad Men and the “Mr. Chips-becomes Scarface” crime-thriller, Breaking Bad.
HBO’s prison drama OZ was a big hit. It is based in Baltimore and is television’s closest relative to the epic Godfather saga.
Few, if any, experts predicted that The Walking Dead would perform as well as the instant-classics above.
The Walking Dead would leave all those series behind in its zombie-infested rear-view mirror.
For most TV series, the writer/showrunner is the one who makes the critical, creative decisions that lead to a show’s launch.
The writer/showrunner usually has the final creative word regarding the pilot script, casting, director, and hiring all key department heads (cinematography, wardrobes, production design, etc.).
Frank Darabont was the showrunner/writer of The Walking Dead. He was well-known for his ability to take existing material and make it profitable and entertaining.
After completing his horror training, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Darabont is best known for adapting Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption,” into the Oscar-nominated film.
His subtly disturbing and frightening approach to AMC’s The Walking Dead would garner its historical ratings and earn it well-deserved awards attention.
AMC and Darabont parted ways shortly after the second season of the show’s production. Each side claimed different reasons for the split.
It turned out that the thing that most scared network executives were the horror genre. This is the same element that made The Walking Dead’s themes and story-telling universally understood and, consequently, more readily accepted worldwide.
Nearly eight years ago, Darabont filed a lawsuit against AMC with the help of his talent representatives, Creative Artists Agency. Since then, the constant stream of news coverage about both sides’ cases has been endless.
Although the settlement is huge, it also points to an even more critical reminder of what’s working today in Hollywood: franchise-ready, genre-based content that’s based upon an existing intellectual property with spin-off potential.
Not long after The Walking Dead’s premiere, HBO entered the fray with a book adaption that few knew about and that no one thought would work: Game Of Thrones (GOT.).
Although GOT isn’t horror per se, its fantasy/science fiction “world-building” certainly draws inspiration from The Walking Dead and builds upon it.
GOT has been the most popular series on HBO to date. It is a far more successful series than The Sopranos and draws significantly higher numbers, particularly in territories other than the U.S.
Even though AMC, Darabont, and CAA have finally put this matter behind them, Premium television will not be the same.
Original concepts such as OZ, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and The Sopranos were replaced by adaptations like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and The Watchmen. This is much the same way that many features are now franchise-based and seldom drawn from new ideas.
AMC’s settlement with Darabont demonstrates how vital the financial stakes for successful TV are. It also explains why TV has moved to genre-based adaptations.
It’s not surprising that the most expensive TV series is also a high-profile, genre-based adaptation. The Lord Of The Rings will be available to you next season via Amazon.
Season One will cost $1 billion.
I hope there aren’t any disagreements over this one. But if there is, then Amazon may be able to afford it.