There was some good news and a gigantic pile of bad news at AMC today concerning its hit series The Walking Dead. But because I like to put a smile on your face before I completely ruin your mood, we'll start with the good news: The Season 2 premiere will be 90 minutes long! Yipee!
Now for the bad news: The 13-episode second season will be sliced in two like the soft torso of a lumbering, rotting corpse as it meets the fine steel of a katana. The first seven episodes will air over seven consecutive Sundays starting October 16. That will take the series through November 27. Then it goes on break. A long break. Like, a backpacking through Europe break.
The remaining six episodes won't begin airing until February 12. That means December and January will be entirely zombie free. Yikes! I can't stand split seasons. Hate 'em to death. And I can't think of a reason anyone would like them. Especially with a season that's only 13 episodes long in the first place!
Breaks suck. They cost networks marketing dollars, because they essentially force the promotion of two different premieres. They disrupt the flow of the affected series, and with a serialized show like The Walking Dead, that will be extra noticeable. NBC tried a long break during the first season of The Event, and that program never recovered (not that it ever stood a chance). Men of a Certain Age returned for Season 2.5, but no one knew about it and the show was canceled. I suppose AMC could have started The Walking Dead early and finished it by the end of 2012, but the network seems locked on launching the series in October as part of its "Scary Halloween Month" or whatever.
However, before you take out your quill and legal pad to pen an angry letter ("To whom it may concern at AMC, what about my feelings!?"), consider the decision from AMC's side. I reached out to AMC to poke around about why they're choosing to go with a break and not run it straight through, and now I understand. Fact: TV always goes into hibernation in December, because everyone's traveling across country to Grandma's house. Sundays in January belong to football—especially the Super Bowl, which kicks off (literally!) on February 5. Scheduling The Walking Dead against America's number-one obsession would mean crummier ratings, as Sunday Night Football and zombies would overlap on the East Coast. And if I were forced to choose between watching my fantasy football team choke or watching The Walking Dead, I'd catch up with the monsters on my DVR the following day.
But the lengthy break has the potential not just to hurt The Walking Dead and its fans, it could completely derail Hell on Wheels, the new AMC Western that's due to launch Sunday, November 6. If the network applies the same reasoning behind The Walking Dead's break to Hell on Wheels—and it should, unless something fishy is going on—we're looking at four consecutive episodes to introduce us to the series, then the same two-month break, then the final six episodes (presumably paired with The Walking Dead's last six episodes). Splitting up a debut season is a huge risk, and frankly, not a very wise business decision, given that viewers are fickle creatures with short-term memories. A new series needs time to sink its claws into a new audience, and cutting the introductions short is like walking out of a room in the middle of a conversation. (Requests for comment on Hell on Wheels' scheduling from AMC were not returned as of press time.)