What would you like to hear first, the obvious news or the surprising news? Let's start with the obvious news: AMC has renewed The Walking Dead for Season 4.
This was a given, thanks to the show's record-breaking ratings. October's Season 3 premiere drew more than 10.9 million viewers in its first airing, and earlier this month, the mid-season finale drew 10.5 million viewers in its first airing and another 5 million in its encore; those numbers are HUGE for a cable series, and probably the only thing that could've stopped AMC from renewing the zombie drama would be the world actually ending today, as those pesky Mayans predicted it would.
So let's move on to the surprising news, which possibly explains why it took so long for the network to announce the renewal in the first place: Showrunner and executive producer Glen Mazzara is leaving the series.
Here's the official statement from the network:
Today, AMC announces the Season 4 pick-up of The Walking Dead.
AMC also jointly announces with Glen Mazzara today that for future seasons, the two parties have mutually decided to part ways. Glen guided the series creatively for Seasons 2 and 3. AMC is grateful for his hard work. We are both proud of our shared success.
Both parties acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward, and conclude that it is best to part ways. This decision is amicable and Glen will remain on for post-production on Season 3B as showrunner and executive producer.
I have to admit that when I first heard this news, I was bummed; Mazzara is directly responsible for The Walking Dead's unbelievable improvement between Seasons 2 and 3. But then the deja vu kicked in, because this isn't the first time the show has lost its 'runner. As you may recall, Frank Darabont—the man responsible for bringing Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic series to television—departed after Season 1. At the time, Tim predicted the show would be fine, and now that we're halfway through Season 3, I think a lot of us would agree that it not only survived, it got way better.
What I'm more concerned about is the apparent "difference in opinion" between AMC and Mazzara over where the show should go. I've never read the Walking Dead comics, so I have no idea if the source material is at play here, but one of the reasons AMC is so successful right now is that when it started doing original programming, it gave its show creators an astonishing amount of freedom. But now it feels like the network is making a habit out of doing battle with the minds behind its biggest shows—specifically Matthew Weiner of Mad Men and Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad—and while a lot of its past disagreements have been money- and contract-related, it's not like money and contracts don't affect the creative paths a show can take. Television is a business, and the issue of art versus profit will never die. But it worries me to know that AMC might be getting a bit more aggressive with its "network notes." And unlike Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC owns The Walking Dead outright. Maybe I'm just reading into it too much, but I'd love to hear your own thoughts in the comments.
A replacement for Mazzara has not yet been named.
The Walking Dead returns for the second half of Season 3 on Sunday, February 10.
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