In case you didn't know already, Frank Darabont has left the hit AMC show The Walking Dead and has been replaced as the "showrunner." Now there have been lots of speculation over the reasons for this exit. Some say that he didn't care for the grind of a weekly show as opposed to his regular work in feature films, while many speculate it was over the budget cuts the AMC network slapped on their shuffling corpses, while sister show Mad Men avoided any cuts in a $25-$30 million renewal deal.
Now the AMC people are saying that the budget cuts to The Walking Dead are natural, because the first season was actually one really big pilot, and that pilots are always more expensive than the "regular" seasons, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I have to confess that AMC's statement gave me the desire to scream "BULLSHIT!" at the top of my lungs.
The Walking Dead has almost twice the audience than Mad Men in plain old numbers (5.3-6.0 million viewers vs 2.9 million viewers). The bulk of this larger audience (4 million) is also in that blessed 18-24 demographic that advertisers dream of. Mad Men's audience skews a bit older and a little higher end, but not really enough to justify the slashing on a show that already had characters out camping out in the open during a zombie apocalypse because it saved the production money.
Walking Dead is also a "bigger" series in sheer scale dealing with people struggling to survive the end of the world. Mad Men is a smaller scale period piece, taking place mostly in offices and homes, and usually goes without big stunts, elaborate special effects or large crowds caked with gory make-up.
So why did Mad Men avoid getting it's budget cut?
I suspect that it has more to do with status than money.
People like to think that all Hollywood cares about is money. That's only partially correct, because if there is one thing that trumps money in Hollywood, it's the status that projects and the people who make them have within Hollywood. Remember, Hollywood is high school with money, being part of the "In Crowd" is everything.
Mad Men is a very well done show, and Hollywood loves it, and I mean really loves it. It regularly showers the show with accolades, awards, and big deals for just about anything or anyone who has anything to do with the show. It's full of baby boomer nostalgia, and its creator has the imprimatur of The Sopranos on his resume. You can't get more inside the collective pants of Hollywood any better.
Walking Dead, despite its popularity is the geek who does everybody's homework, essential, and tolerated, but is not, and will never be part of the "In Crowd." It's got a lot of strikes against it.
Strike One: It's in the horror genre, the red headed stepchild of the movie business.
Strike Two: It's from a comic book that's not about superheroes.
Strike Three: The main man behind the show, Frank Darabont, has had 1 certified hit movie (The Green Mile), one acclaimed basic cable perennial (The Shawshank Redemption) and a few other films that really didn't make all that much money, or win that much praise.
When you have those strikes against you, any attempt to fight budget cuts will get you labeled "irresponsible" "greedy" and "difficult," while fighting to preserve semi-regular budget overages with your "In Crowd" membership card gets you labeled as "artistic" "perfectionist" and "courageous."
There's just no way The Walking Dead could have won that fight, because that's the way the system works in Hollywood.
THIS JUST IN: Darabont didn't quit The Walking Dead, according to this report AMC fired him.
This puts a bit more meat on my theory.
Oh, look what this news has done to Don Draper. It's got him crying.
Don't cry Don, you're in the cool club, you're safe.