The news that executive producer Frank Darabont has fired the hit show's already small writing staff—and wants to go without for the second season—has sent a ripple through Hollywood. Relax, Deadites: This could work.
Of course, seeing anyone out of work is never a good thing. And in episodic television, there are always tons more writers than there are jobs, so the news that The Walking Dead might turn to a freelance-driven model came down like an anvil among members of the creative community.
But the idea of a show fueled primarily by freelance writers isn't new, nor is it necessarily bad. In fact, it was par for the course in the '60s, '70s and '80s: A small cadre of writing producers would chart the course, take some choice stories for themselves to write, assign the others and rewrite them when they came in. Classic Star Trek worked that way, as did The Twilight Zone before it, as did countless non-genre TV dramas.
Is there a virtue in having a writers' room, in fostering the free-flowing exchange of ideas, inspiration and experience? Absolutely. But that's not the only way of making television; there are others, and they are perfectly capable of turning out excellence. Babylon 5 was written nigh-exclusively by J. Michael Straczynski, and didn't have a writing staff. Every line of dialogue during the first three seasons of the Emmy-winning West Wing came from Aaron Sorkin's keyboard; the writing staff there served more as a platoon of researchers.
Turning to freelancers might allow for a shorter production schedule, with a dozen writers all working at the same time, turning in an avalanche of material simultaneously to then be honed and polished by executive producers like Darabont and Robert Kirkman. And production time is production money. No matter how big a hit The Walking Dead is, it's still a cable show on a small network: Every dime they can save will get you one more awesome zombie death.
And freelancers will get you new voices, fresh legs to help carry the drama over the long haul. They can also come from anywhere: Wouldn't it be sweet to see Stephen King bounce in for an episode, or David Chase, or Neil Gaiman, or Steven Moffat?
Ultimately, this hue and cry is all just anger from a very tiny population. The viewers of the show, by and large, don't know or don't care how the show they like gets pumped through their viewing screens, just that it shows up when it's supposed to. They don't want to know how you make the sausage, only that they get to eat it. And just that it continues to taste good.