Why was Frank Darabont fired from The Walking Dead? And what led to him filing a lawsuit against AMC in return? That has been one of the questions bothering fans over the past few years, especially since they believe he helped usher in one of the greatest TV dramas of this decade, solidifying its place in history as one of the all-time best horror series ever created for the small screen. Now, we get to learn more of the history behind the man's removal from the show. The previously sealed deposition in his lawsuit against AMC has finally been opened.
While shorter than the following seasons with just six episodes, The Walking Dead Season 1 is a lean, mean gristle machine that worked at pulling audiences into this world of the Zombie apocalypse with a fervor never matched by any other show revolving around the living dead. It was compelling, and Frank Darabont was very much driving the ship as an executive producer, writer and director. There was an urgency in the storytelling at the time he was involved with the show that hasn't been matched since. And that certainly caused some problems for the budget conscious basic cable series.
During The Walking Dead Season 1, the horror drama experienced a major shakeup behind-the-scenes. Frank Darabont got the axe, and Glen Mazzara took over as show runner. Because the show had such a solid start, many wondered exactly what had happened. Over the years, there has always been talk that money was the main factor. But now, much more has come to light courtesy of Frank Darabont's previously sealed deposition. The document is 40 pages in all. The man holds nothing back, explaining that he had to manage a major crisis as The Walking Dead Season 2 kicked off. He also says the reasons for his firing were 'concocted'.
In the lawsuit, Frank Darabont claims he is owed 10s of millions of dollars in profits from the series, that AMC breached his contract, and that he has been deprived of funds due to the cable network making a sweetheart deal licensing the show to itself. You can read the entire document HERE. In his deposition, Frank Darabont describes the show's early days, and how AMC caused problems for the series with budget cuts despite its massive ratings.
"I remember Joel Stillerman [president of original programming and development for AMC], in a meeting in my office, when we were all discussing the issues of the upcoming season, we said to him, 'Surely that the success of the show, which, by the way, you guys are bragging about because we keep getting e-mails saying, 'Hey, we're breaking viewership records in 120 countries around the world by hundreds of percent, in some countries by over 1,000%,' at the same time we're hearing how successful the show is for you, you're telling us that this, this budget issue is not going to budge at all. And he said, 'The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion,' in a rather icy manner."
This brings up the reasons for him getting the axe. The truth behind the matter may be for others to decided. But this is what Frank Darabont has to say about AMC 'concocting' the reasons for his dismissal.
"They accused me of not having directors tone meetings," he said, referring to the way in which a showrunner is supposed to sit down with each director of each episode to go over the script - scene by scene - and convey the tone of the show. "And I said, 'That's absolutely not true, I have had a directors tone meeting with every single director this season.'"
Glen Mazzara, who took over as show runner in The Walking Dead Season 2, actually came to Frank Darabont's defense. He claims the executive producer was treated unfairly. Here is his official statement.
"I believe that Frank was executing his responsibilities and duties as showrunner and there was a personal rift between [Walking Dead co-creator Robert] Kirkman and Darabont and between Darabont and the AMC executives, and that when the material for the finale came in and Frank said I need some time to figure out a plan of how to pursue this and what we're going to re-shoot and what it will take to do this, AMC was unwilling to give him that time to solve the issue and they let him go without notifying him that he was, that the issues were that series. That if he did not appropriately solve these issues, he was about to be fired."
Frank Darabont goes onto claim that AMC cut his budget from '3.4' to '3', in terms of the millions of dollars it takes to produce episodes of the hit horror series. He also says that the network kept the tax credit, which created a full 25% budget cut across the board. He further states that this greatly affected both the cast and crew, who were 'busting their butts to earn.' He goes onto bash certain executives.
"When they did rarely show up on the [Georgia-based] set, [they] would ... drive in from the airport in their air conditioned car, race into the air conditioned tent we had there so the actors could have a break and not pass out from the heat, poke their heads out on occasion, and half an hour later jump back in their car and fly back to their air conditioned office in New York. I had a tremendous lack of respect for them."
Frank Darabont describes the shooting conditions during that first season as harsh, and claims he was managing "crisis-level problems arising on the first episode of the second season." When the footage came in for these episodes, the director didn't think they were perfect, and so he decided to abandon the writers room for reshoots and to focus on the editing room. This started the path to his dismissal.
In the lawsuit, Frank Darabont's attorneys claim that he was involved in some capacity on all The Walking Dead Season 2 episodes. But the man himself testified that he wasn't providing full-time show runner services after July 27, 2011. Since his testimony, AMC has given a statement to THR. It reads as such.
"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. 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."
You can read more of Glen Mazzara's testimony HERE. While he defends Frank Darabont, he also goes onto suggest that had he not taken over the show, Frank Darabont would have probably killed it with The Walking Dead Season 2's second episode. What do you think about all of this? Chime in with your thoughts below.