Last week we were shocked to learn that Frank Darabont left The Walking Dead after having enthusiastically promoted the show only days before at Comic-Con. Clearly, something unpleasant was afoot behind the scenes.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the problem might stem from money being poured into AMC’s flagship show Mad Men. A renegotiated contract lead to a pay hike for its creator and executive producer Matt Weiner to the tune of $10 million per season—with no budget cuts to the show.
Meanwhile, the budget for The Walking Dead has been slashed $250,000 per episode and Breaking Bad’s season five show order has been reduced to six or eight from thirteen—prompting Sony Television (the studio behind the show) to consider selling it to another network.
Interestingly enough, The Walking Dead handily surpasses both shows in terms of viewership. It averaged 6 million viewers per episode during its first season while Mad Men averaged 4.3 million last season and Breaking Bad 2.3 million this year.
AMC president Charlie Collier had this to say on The Walking Dead budget cuts:
“If you look at pilot budgets vs. pattern budgets usually the pilot budget is much higher than what ends up being the pattern budget. With The Walking Dead, instead of doing a pilot, we went straight to 6 episodes because we believed in the team and the talent in front and behind the camera. Then we came back with a 13-episode second season, and amortization over 13 episodes is very different than over 6. But we settled into one of the highest pattern budgets for a basic cable series,” said Collier.
Still, it seems counterintuitive to take anything away from a show that is clearly AMC’s biggest hit. I like Mad Men, but The Walking Dead should be their top priority—and they may have lost the show’s driving force because they don’t have their priorities in order.