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Dead Man Walking: New Showrunner for AMC Zombie Hit

Darabont out as overlord of 'The Walking Dead'

Oct. 26, 2010: Zombie plays chess in Union Square in New York to promote 'The Walking Dead.' | Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

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Days after admitting he was flying by the seat of his pants during the first season of The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont has stepped down as showrunner of the AMC series.

The creator, executive producer, and director of the zombie apocalypse hit, Darabont has ceded day-to-day oversight of The Walking Dead to Glen Mazzara. A veteran showrunner (FX’s The Shield, TNT’s Hawthorne), Mazzara joined the production in February as a writer and executive producer—and Darabont’s No. 2.

AMC on Thursday thanked Darabont for his contributions to the success of The Walking Dead, adding that it hopes to retain the seasoned horror director in some unspecified capacity. “We continue to discuss his ongoing role with the series,” an AMC rep said.

Darabont has directed a number of feature films, most notably a trio of Stephen King adaptations: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist. He wrote and directed The Walking Dead pilot, which didn’t see the light of day for five years.

Last week, Darabont told a Comic-Con audience that the first six installments of the zombie show were characterized by a good deal of trial and [t]error. “The good thing about the first season is that nobody knew what was coming,” Darabont said. “The first six episodes, nobody knew what the hell we were doing.”

That panel was held just six days ago in San Diego. According to The Hollywood Reporter, at no point during his Comic-Con appearance did Darabont indicate that he would step down as showrunner.

AMC said Darabont’s decision to give up the job will not have a material impact on the show’s production schedule. As such, the network is on track for an Oct. 16 premiere.

Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead graphic novels, and executive producer and writer on the series, will stay the course, as will executive producer Gale Anne Hurd.

In May, Darabont expressed concern that AMC would look to cut the show’s budget, which insiders peg at around $2.5 million per episode.

“Creatively I have no complaints thus far. They’ve been pretty good that way,” Darabont said during a THR showrunner’s roundtable. “But I believe if they do move ahead with what they’re talking about, it will affect the show creatively, [and] in a negative way. Which just strikes me as odd. You know, if you have an asset, why would you punish it?”

Once a sleepy outpost that specialized in screening iffy movies like Jaws IV: The Revenge, AMC now boasts cable’s most critically acclaimed lineup of original drama series in Mad Men, Breaking BadThe Killing, and The Walking Dead. And while Don Draper and Walter White bring home all the hardware, the zombie show scares up far more viewers.

Among the core demos, The Walking Dead was the most-watched show on cable in 2010. According to Nielsen live-plus-seven-day ratings data, the series averaged 4.55 million viewers 18-49 and 4.01 million adults 25-54 per episode.

AMC closed out the second quarter of 2011 ranked 14th among all basic cable networks, with an average prime-time draw of 1.23 million total viewers, up 26 percent from the year-ago period. Deliveries of adults 18-49 were up 7 percent to 400,000, while adults 25-54 grew 15 percent to 493,000.

Since 2006, when AMC first began investing in original programming, the network has boosted its net ad sales revenue by 76 percent, to $245.6 million, based on SNL Kagan data. Over the same period, affiliate revenue has increased 49 percent to $289.2 million.