Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Saga of the "Walking Dead" 'Fired' Writers

Last week, Deadline's Nellie Andreeva reported that Frank Darabont, showrunner for AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead, had fired his entire writing staff. Considering how terrifically successful the show's been so far, news of a personnel change this dramatic came as a shock to most. The blogosphere was especially aghast at the departure of executive producer Charles Eglee, co-creator of Dark Angel and producer/writer for Dexter and The Shield.

Producer Gale Ann Hurd, James Cameron's ex-wife and producer of some of his best films, quickly scheduled an interview with Entertainment Weekly to respond to the Deadline story. Calling the report "completely inaccurate," she characterized the move as a reshuffling of priorities: "[In] the writers’ room, there are people that have set up other projects that will be their first priority if their own series is picked up as a pilot or if it’s a series. I think [Eglee] just decided that he wants to run his own show."

This is sound logic, at least in Eglee's case. Vulture reported that Eglee is talking to FX and Sony Pictures Television about coming on as a writer and executive producer for Power, a new drama about homicide detectives who investigate crimes committed by superheroes. Could be an unholy mashup of genres, but, either way, it sounds better than The Cape.

The rest of the staff, however, doesn't appear to be in such good steads. Writer Glen Mazzara (and fellow Shield alum) doesn't appear to have any other projects in the works, and he's responsible for the second-best episode of the season (behind the premiere, at least in my reckoning). Vulture also wrote that "several of the writers on the small staff (about a half-dozen scribes) very much wanted to remain full-time for season two." And there seems to be no evidence really to refute claims of their dismissal. Even FX admitted, vaugely enough, "that there will be changes to the writing staff." Another Shield vet, Adam Fierro, appears to be in the same situation.

But while it seems counterproductive to can a writing staff responsible for one of the most successful shows in basic cable history, Darabont's move might be perfectly logical. Though I've enjoyed the hell out of the series, it's been plagued by awful dialogue and plot holes (or plot sinkholes, in the case of one-handed redneck Merle Dixon). That Darabont ended up writing, cowriting, or rewriting all of the first season's six episode seems to speak to ongoing frustrations. Dialogue, tough, would seem to be the first thing a rewrite would fix, and all of Dale's hamhanded metaphors, for example, made it to the final cut.

Darabont, too, is responsible for "Guts," the episode most consider to be the series' weakest. I rather enjoyed the episode, but I appreciate fans' complaints.

Either way, it looks like Darabont and Robert Kirkman, creator of the Walking Dead comic book, are going to be the only staff members left next season. Various sources are reporting that they're either going to try to do the whole thing on their own or farm the scripts out to freelancers, as Starz/BBC does with Torchwood. If they go it alone, however, they'll be following in the footsteps of Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and Peter Tolan and Denis Leary (Rescue Me). The first four seasons of The West Wing are some of the best in the history of television, but Sorkin burned himself out and left the show over spats with NBC executives over late scripts. Rescue Me started out great, but became increasingly implausible and melodramatic as the series wore on.

We'll see how Darabont's experiment works out. To be sure, it's a gamble. But with a premise as dynamite as Dead's, this show will probably remain incredibly popular no matter what Darabont zombie-vomits on to the page. As long as it doesn't become, you know, Heroes.