Why season two of The Walking Dead was such a mess

“The Walking Dead” is one of the biggest shows on television, if not the biggest; so you would think that AMC would up its budget after breaking virtually ever record out there, right? Wrong.

Series co-creator and original showrunner Frank Darabont is in the middle of a lawsuit with AMC, claiming the network breached contract and deprived him of tens of millions of dollars in profit by deciding to license the show to themselves instead of a third-party network.

In a recently unsealed deposition (via THR), Darabont slams AMC executives, particularly president of original programming and development, Joel Stillerman, for creating issues for the show early in its second season.

“We said to him, ‘Surely that the success of the show, which, by the way, you guys are bragging about because we keep getting e-mails saying, ‘Hey, we’re breaking viewership records in 120 countries around the world by hundreds of percent, in some countries by over 1,000%,’ at the same time we’re hearing how successful the show is for you, you’re telling us that this, this budget issue is not going to budge at all. And he said, ‘The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion,’ in a rather icy manner.”

Darabont says early in “The Walking Dead’s” second season, their production budget had been cut from $3.4 million to $3 million, despite breaking ratings records.

“That was bad enough, but then they dropped the bomb on us that, oh by the way, they’re keeping the tax credit,” he testified. “They’re going to pocket the tax credit. So, between the two you’ve got a full 25% cut across the board.”

He says that because of budget issues, “crisis-level problems” arose while working on the first episode of the second season. The footage shot by the director wasn’t meeting the standards of the show, so Darabont had to take on the task shooting additional footage himself.

He had to leave the writer’s room to do that, which is something vice president of scripted programming, Suzie Fitzgerald, agreed to, saying, “Absolutely I agree with your assessment. You have to do the crisis management. I understand that that’s going to delay those scripts coming in by three weeks.”

When later asked about it, Fitzgerald denied having the conversation with Darabont. “So, she out and out just lied to my face in front of everybody,” Darabont testified. “I can prove that because after the meeting I went back to the editing room to tell my editor to finish up a few things there that day anyway that needed finishing and to tell my editor what had happened.”

Eventually, the crises, and everything that came from them, led to Darabont being fired as showrunner from AMC. But why? Why exactly was he fired?

“They accused me of not having directors tone meetings,” he said, referring to meetings showrunners have with directors about how to capture the tone of the show. “And I said, ‘That’s absolutely not true, I have had a director’s tone meeting with every single director this season.’”

Glen Mazzara, who took over as showrunner after Darabont was fired, also testified. When asked if Darabont had been mistreated by AMC, Mazzara openly said yes.

“I believe that Frank was executing his responsibilities and duties as showrunner and there was a personal rift between [“Walking Dead” co-creator Robert] Kirkman and Darabont and between Darabont and the AMC executives, and that when the material for the finale came in and Frank said I need some time to figure out a plan of how to pursue this and what we’re going to re-shoot and what it will take to do this, AMC was unwilling to give him that time to solve the issue and they let him go without notifying him that he was, that the issues were that series. That if he did not appropriately solve these issues, he was about to be fired.”

AMC claims he wasn’t executing his duties as showrunner properly while Mazzara disagrees, saying he was doing absolutely everything required of a showrunner — and he did them well. In fact, Mazzara offered an example: acquiring permission to film on Hershel’s farm. The religious family that owned the farm initially denied AMC the rights to film there because they disagreed with the content.

“I believe Frank flew to meet with them and met with them and described the show and I think listened to them and reassured them of the type of show he wanted to do,” Mazzara recalled. “And I believe that it was after that that they agreed to let us use that farm.”

Because Darabont was fired as showrunner midway through “The Walking Dead’s” second season, AMC didn’t pay him what he was owed, as much as 10 percent in profits from the show. Instead, he was paid 7.5 percent due to AMC believing he was only three-quarters vested.

No matter how you look at the situation behind-the-scenes, it’s easy to tell that “The Walking Dead” declined in quality during its second season, and even lost viewers because of it. Three of my friends loved the show, but all three of them stopped watching midway through the second season. It has taken quite awhile for “The Walking Dead” to return to the quality it once had and not only regain, but expand, its viewership. Hopefully, something like this doesn’t happen again.

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