A report last week that Frank Darabont had basically fired the entire writing staff of The Walking Dead seemed to defy logic, even by Hollywood standards: Nobody’s getting canned over at Outsourced, but the team behind the biggest hit in AMC history gets a bullet in the brain? Darabont hasn’t offered any explanation yet, though others associated with the series have rushed out carefully worded responses denying anybody’s been fired — while simultaneously confirming that most of the writers attached to season one, including executive producer Charles H. “Chic” Eglee, probably won’t be back. (Eglee may have already found his next gig; more on that below.) So has everyone associated with Walking Dead lost their minds? And will any of the alleged backstage drama impact the quality of the drama onscreen when the show returns next fall?
To hear Walking Dead exec producers Gale Anne Hurd and Robert Kirkman tell it, the original Deadline report about mass firings on the show was overblown. “It’s completely inaccurate,” Hurd told EW; Kirkman indicated to TV Guide that Eglee, an executive producer for The Shield, Dexter, and Dark Angel, “didn’t want to be second-in-command on a show when he’s used to being a top dog” and had decided to “go off and do something else.” On that latter point, Vulture can report that Kirkman was right: Sources tell us Eglee is talking to FX and Sony Pictures Television about becoming a writer and exec producer of Powers, a long-in-the-works dramatization of the comic-book series of the same name about homicide detectives who investigate cases linked to folks with extraordinary abilities. FX execs are said to be very high on Powers (a pilot order seems quite likely), and thanks to his Shield work, Eglee is someone the network and studio know quite well.
Our sources indicate Eglee has been circling Powers for months, implying that his departure from Walking Dead was not some sudden development, or something dictated by Darabont. So are Hurd and Kirkman 100 percent correct when they pooh-pooh the Deadline report? Maybe not: While it’s clear Eglee has been mulling life after Dead for a while, Vulture has also talked to people close to the show who’ve confirmed that several of the writers on the small staff (about a half-dozen scribes) very much wanted to remain full-time for season two. “It’s a huge hit show. Who would walk away from that?” an insider told us.
These sources argue that Darabont has simply decided to follow the Aaron Sorkin Model for running Walking Dead. While the vast majority of TV comedies and dramas are collaborative ventures in which numerous writers contribute to the creation of scripts, some show-runners are a bit more … controlling. Most famously, Sorkin wrote almost every word of The West Wing’s first four seasons, nearly burning out in the process and leading to his ultimate departure from the series after frequent clashes with NBC over tardy scripts. Darabont seems poised to take a similarly completist approach: Deadline noted that he ended up writing, co-writing, or rewriting all six of the first season’s episodes. And while there’s been talk of using freelance writers, without a full-time staff, Darabont and Kirkman will essentially be running Walking Dead by themselves, which has some industry naysayers predicting trouble: Not only will Dead expand from six episodes to thirteen next season, but Darabont is pretty much a film guy with little experience producing so many scripts in such a short amount of time. (Kirkman is also a relative TV novice.) “I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to go back to a staff once they realize how hard it is to run a TV show,” one person close to the matter said.
Following the Sorkin Model isn’t always a recipe for disaster. Peter Tolan and Denis Leary pretty much wrote Rescue Me by themselves, with help from just one or two other regular scribes. And David E. Kelley is a notoriously hands-on show-runner who also was responsible for some of TV’s best-written shows. “It’s unbelievably hard to do, but it’s not impossible,” one industry wag says. And with ten full months before Dead’s expected return, Darabont has plenty of time to obsess over every script and tweak every zombie “HRRRRRGGGGHHHH.”