Never assume that just because a show is a record-breaking smash hit that all is well behind the scenes. Though AMC’s executives have battled with former “Walking Dead” showrunner Frank Darabont since even before he was fired in 2011, specifics of the messy details were revealed on Wednesday when The Hollywood Reporter released dirt from a newly-unsealed deposition.
Darabont sued the network in December 2013 for breach of contract and claimed he was cheated out of millions of profits. The hit zombie drama, which shattered ratings records with 17 million viewers at its peak last year, resumes Season 6 in February.
Darabont, best known as director of movies such as “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” originally developed the drama as an adaptation from the comic book in 2010, and was credited as a producer and executive producer until he was removed by AMC in the middle of production on Season 2. The cast and crew were stunned at his sudden departure.
In the deposition, Darabont explains he was extremely unhappy when AMC decided to cut the show’s original $3.4 million-per-episode budget in the second season, and that at the time, the network said it would keep the tax credit the show received from filming in Georgia. Darabont said he asked AMC’s programming president why “The Walking Dead” would receive less production money if the network was boasting that it was a ratings sensation. Darabont said he was icily told, “The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion.”
Darabont also slammed AMC executives in general, saying that he felt they didn’t appreciate the scope of the show and rarely spent time on set, only visiting for a brief amount of time from New York. “I had a tremendous lack of respect for them,” he said.
There was also a back-and-forth about problems with the first episode of the second season, which led to delays for other scripts; Darabont claimed when AMC fired him, they said he didn’t collaborate properly with directors. (He disputes this.)
Another point of contention is when Darabont stopped contributing to the show, which would affect his financial profits. “Walking Dead” showrunner Glen Mazzara, who replaced Darabont, was also deposed. He said although he thought the Season 2 premiere could have been a “show killer” if he hadn’t taken over for Darabont, he also said he thought the network treated Darabont unfairly – and Darabont’s “imprint as well as a cinematic approach” was clear in the remaining second season episodes.
This isn’t AMC’s only public issue with a hit showrunner; as THR reported, both Vince Gilligan of “Breaking Bad” and Matt Weiner of “Mad Men” fought with the network over finances. But this is the first time such a fight has gone to court.
In a statement to The Washington Post, AMC said the network will continue to defend this lawsuit, which they sought to dismiss earlier in the fall.
“Frank Darabont has made it clear that he has strong opinions about AMC and the events that led to his departure from ‘The Walking Dead,'” a spokesman said. “The reality is that he has been paid millions of dollars under the terms of his contract, which we honored, and we will continue to vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”