Once again, AMC cuts off THE WALKING DEAD at the knees

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan),  and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) shorten Hershel Greene's (Scott Wilson) by a foot in Episode 2, Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD. Photo by Gene Page/AMC c. TWD Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan), and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) shorten actor Scott Wilson’s role by a foot in Episode 2, Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD. Photo by Gene Page/AMC c. TWD Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

Apparently the money-minded suits running AMC suffer from a peculiar brand of neurosis: the irrational fear of having too many hit shows on their network. Today they took one step deeper into this quasi-Mayan-apocalyptic death wish by announcing they were handing THE WALKING DEAD‘s show runner Glen Mazzara his walking papers after the current third season.

If this ding-dong decision of doom sounds eerily familiar to you, that’s because previously on AMC these grim reapers gave original executive producer Frank Darabont the heave-ho in August 2011 after the monster hit show’s first season. Since the series has thrived and grown stronger after that Season One turmoil thanks to Mazzara and the creative staff, I guess AMC decided to double down on jettisoning its second successful show runner as some sort of warped good luck charm? If we survived the terrible publicity and staff upheaval after firing Frank, who’s up for another round of You Bet Your Livelihood?

AMC’s statement offered the usual pink slip double-talk today, muttering “The two parties have mutually decided to part ways” which most often translates to meaning Mazzara chose the highway over their way, following in Darabont’s footsteps of creative integrity. This interpretation was supported not long after AMC’s press release by former SHIELD writers/EPs Kurt Sutter and Shawn Ryan, who unleashed a berating broadside at AMC via Twitter. Sutter spared no adjectives nor feelings: “AMC is run by small-minded, bottom-line thinkers who have no appreciation or gratitude for the effort of its creative personnel. Time and time again we see events like what happened today with Glen Mazzara. They continue to disrespect writers, shit on their audience and bury their network.” Ouch.

Sutter and Ryan’s comments aside, clearly AMC has managerial malfunctions when it comes to dancing with the creative talent that got them to the party in the first place. Since its 2010 inception, THE WALKING DEAD has garnered seven Emmy nominations and two wins, has twice been named TV Program of the Year by the American Film Institute, and doubled its viewership from 5.35 million pairs of eyes glued to its 2010 launch to nearly 11 million viewers hungry for the Season Three premiere in October. It should be obvious even to shambling undead corpses that Mazzara and team are doing something quite right for the series after Darabont’s unceremonious dismissal.

That doesn’t seem to be good enough for the AMC bottom-liners who must have formulated a five-year plan to eliminate any good ratings surplus that might accumulate on their network. There’s messing with success and there’s beating its brains out with a tire iron. Worse still, AMC has quickly established a notorious track record of sacrificing their cash cows for increased profits, most recently by penny-pinching Emmy Awards favorite BREAKING BAD into a premature demise in its fifth season, the last eight episodes foist off for a series farewell next summer. Not content to air a gaggle of pop culture-influencing original shows, AMC continually opts for chainsawing production costs of its high profile hits to squeeze every cent from their veins from them while asking the hit show runners to do ever more with ever less. One can’t argue that zombies are an expensive lot to keep looking gorgeously grotesque for the cameras (thanks to Greg Nicotero), but they’re also the monstrous engine which has driven THE WALKING DEAD to unparalleled heights (and frights) in TV horror history. Golden egg-laying goose, meet AMC’s frying pan as the network ninnies crank up the heat another notch and pass the paté.

As AMC continues to pour its resources and place all its bets on MAD MEN ($30 million to Matt Weiner for three more seasons), simultaneous hits like THE WALKING DEAD struggle and stagger along, winning over genre-loving hearts and minds which seem to be vital organs foreign to the network’s brain trust, despite the ratings and killer press the show earns each year. Maybe AMC would cut TWD more slack if the zombies smoked and drank to outdated excess?

Meanwhile Glen Mazzara proved himself a zombie-loving loyalist in several appearances on AMC’s post-TWD live fan fest TALKING DEAD, which recaps each week’s episode hosted by Nerdist creator Chris Hardwick. Initially regarded askance after Darabont’s departure, Mazzara quickly earned the trust of fans as a show running partner to TWD comics creator Robert Kirkman who joined forces to raise the series’ dramatic and horrific impact to devour even larger audience shares in two following seasons. THE WALKING DEAD has evolved from an event to a phenomenon, not to mention a trend setting power player across the entertainment industry. With coattail-grabbing feature films like WORLD WAR Z to WARM BODIES arising in theaters for 2013, it seems incomprehensible that the AMC suits are so willing if not determined to gut their own cable programming success as if its some TV tissue infection which must be carved away limb by limb (not unlike poor Herschel) lest it infect their network with a plague of plaudits and profit.

A friendly word of warning to the AMC executives: poke and prod at your zombie hit once too often and soon it won’t rise up again to thrill and chill your horror-loving hoard of loyal weekly viewers. The walkers may be reanimated corpses but they won’t hold up forever, and whittling down their creative potential with a thousand budget cuts by your corporate machetes will inevitably leave you with an inert pile of dismembered bones turned to dust before well before their time.

AMC, leave the Dead alone . . . and long may they live.

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