Fans of AMC’s hit zombie-apocalypse drama The Walking Dead were given a jolt Friday when the network announced the show had been renewed for a fourth season—but will go ahead without showrunner Glen Mazzara.
While the split was said to have been amicable, Mazzara and the network clearly had different notions about the show’s creative direction. Rumors of turbulence began churning early in the fall, when AMC held off on making an official renewal notice despite the fact that The Walking Dead was putting up killer ratings.
This is the second time The Walking Dead has lost its showrunner. Mazzara took the reins in July 2011, after the series’ original helmer, Frank Darabont, was fired. He guided the series creatively for Seasons 2 and 3.
In a joint statement issued by AMC and Mazzara, the split was characterized as a mutual decision. “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,” the statement read, adding that Mazzara will remain for postproduction on the remainder of Season 3.
The Walking Dead returns on Feb. 10, 2013, for a second-half run of eight new episodes.
Mazzara later said he believed it was time to move on. “I have told the stories I wanted to tell and connected with our fans on a level that I never imagined,” he said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The shake-up at The Walking Dead is only the latest in a series of showrunner kerfuffles at AMC. Mere days after AMC tapped John Shiban to succeed departing Hell on Wheels showrunners Joe and Tony Gayton, Shiban quit the program. AMC has also gone to the mattresses when negotiating renewals with Mad Men capo Matt Weiner and Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan.
Based on the eponymous comic book series by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead closed out the first half of its third season with a Dec. 2 telecast that delivered a whopping 10.5 million viewers and a 5.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo. The Walking Dead remains the highest-rated scripted fall series on all of television, lagging only NFL broadcasts in the dollar demo.
Kirkman, who also serves as co-executive producer of the series, also weighed in on Mazzara’s departure. “I believe the parties came to this decision in the best interest of the future of the show,” Kirkman said. “I thank Glen for his hard work and appreciate his many contributions to The Walking Dead and look forward to working with him as we complete postproduction on Season 3.”
A replacement for Mazzara has yet to be announced.
Given its tremendous popularity among younger viewers—the median age for the Season 3 premiere was a dewy 31 years—The Walking Dead boasts one of the highest unit costs in cable. According to media buyers, a 30-second spot in the show sold in the 2012-13 upfront for around $245,000 a pop. November scatter rates soared to as much as $400,000 per :30.