What's the real reason Frank Darabont left The Walking Dead? Well, it might have something to do with another hit AMC show, Mad Men.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a massive budget hike for Mad Men—the cable network's flagship program—has led AMC to make cuts to its other two high-profile shows, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.
Just a few months ago, there was a tense negotiation between AMC and Mad Men creator Matt Weiner over both his contract and the show's budget. Well, Weiner ended up signing for two more seasons of Mad Men at a hefty personal paycheck of $10 million per year and stood his ground on budget cuts.
Meanwhile, in the past two weeks, AMC has sliced $250,000 per episode from The Walking Dead and has asked the creators of Breaking Bad to scale their next season down from 13 episodes to a mere six or eight.
As a result, there's a lot of muttering behind the scenes that AMC broke the bank for Mad Men and is now expecting the other shows to make do with less. It's been speculated that Darabont's refusal to agree to the smaller budget led to his departure as executive producer from The Walking Dead—a key factor in the success of the first season.
The irony in all this is that The Walking Dead has gotten more viewers than either of the other shows: It averaged 6 million viewers per episode during its first season, while Mad Men averaged 4.3 million last season and Breaking Bad is grabbing just a mere 2.3 million this year.
Both of those shows have a truckload of Emmys, but awards don't necessarily get eyeballs in front of the screen. So should The Walking Dead have to pay for the extravagant lifestyles of those 1960s ad execs on Mad Men? Did Matt Weiner's big raise lead directly to Frank Darabont collecting unemployment?
AMC President Charlie Collier says not to worry: "The viewer will see we're making shows that will look like a movie every week." Sure, but what kind of movie is he talking about? A studio tentpole or something you'd see on the bottom of a drive-in double feature?