'Walking Dead' showrunner talks Frank Darabont departure
"The Walking Dead" will not undergo a radical transformation in the wake of creator Frank Darabont's departure. That was the key message sent during a Thursday morning press preview of the second season of AMC's hit zombie show — which included a screening of the first new episode and a discussion afterward with executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, Robert Kirkman and Glen Mazzara.
"There's been concern that I'm going to [mess] up the show," Mazzara conceded. "There's no different vision. We plotted the season under Frank. He's a terrific guy. I loved working with him."
Mazzara was tapped to replace Darabont in late July when the Oscar-nominated writer-director abruptly left the series after a high-profile appearance to support the show at San Diego's Comic-Con International. Darabont had invited Mazzara to sign on as his No. 2 for the second season of the series, which is adapted from Kirkman's comic books and follows a group of survivors struggling to find their way in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-eating zombies.
Mazzara, whose credits include "The Shield" and "Crash," began working closely with Darabont after he wrote the fifth episode of "The Walking Dead" last year, and he characterized his absence as a "hard punch to take."
"It was rough," Mazzara said. "I went in there and I met with the cast, and that was tough. They care about him. Actors are emotional people.... I knew there would be a strong reaction. I just went in there and asked for their support. It was not like I was an outsider. They realize I'm going to be respectful with the world Frank put in motion."
Darabont will retain an executive producer credit on the show, and Mazzara characterized the transition behind the scenes as smooth: "A show could collapse, but I don't think that's going to happen. We're working through it. The material continues to be good."
Responding to reports that AMC had cut the budget for the show — trims of roughly $250,000 per episode that some say prompted Darabont's resignation — Mazzara confirmed that the "actual cost per episode is less" but it's also "consistent with any budget I've dealt with." He chalked up the reduced figure to the series expanding from its first-season six-episode run to a full 13 episodes this season.
Season 2 of "The Walking Dead" premieres Oct. 16.
-- Gina McIntyre
Photo: Norman Reedus, left, and Andrew Lincoln in "The Walking Dead." Credit: Gene Page / AMC.