AMC’s The Walking Dead is currently the most-watched drama series on television, with 12.1 million viewers having tuned in for the recent mid-season finale. Despite the occasional dips, the show has overall been widely well-received by critics and is part of a franchise based on Robert Kirkman’s original comics that is growing ever more successful.
Despite the praise for The Walking Dead, however, there have been some very disquieting events going on between the scenes. In a few short seasons AMC has already fired two showrunners – Frank Darabont and Glenn Mazzara - and reportedly made some rather dubious recommendations to help cut the budget in season 2, including suggesting the the zombies only be heard and not seen in order to save money on special effects make-up.
Darabont has not mellowed in his feelings towards AMC’s executives, recently describing them as “sociopaths” and stating that he cannot bear to watch the show any more. Now Variety reports that Darabont has filed a lawsuit against AMC Networks, on the basis of claims that the company has been “self-dealing” in order to avoid paying Darabont his rightful share of the show’s profits.
The main thrust of the lawsuit is Darabont’s claim that AMC is playing the numbers to avoid having to hand out a single dollar to its profit participants. The Walking Dead is produced and aired by two affiliates of AMC Networks, and Darabont’s contract was with the affiliate that produces the show. His original agreement would guarantee him a share of any profits made by the production company, as the original developer of The Walking Dead.
According to Darabont’s lawsuit, AMC Networks is avoiding sharing any profits by having the production affiliate sell the license fee for The Walking Dead to the AMC channel for a very small figure. For example, the AMC license fee is allegedly $1,450,000 per episode, which only covers about 65% of the production costs. This would mean that, on paper, The Walking Dead remains firmly in deficit while the parent company can reap the profits without paying anything to Darabont or any other profit share participants.
The lawsuit also claims that Darabont was unlawfully fired from the show during the second season, despite delivering the episodes within time and budget limitations, and that he is entitled to an executive producer credit. The litigation alleges that Darabont was fired in order to avoid paying him increased compensation and to deprive him of his right of first negotiations to serve as showrunner for the third season.
AMC has declined comment on the litigation, which Darabont and his agency CAA are requesting be sent to a jury trial in order to determine the monetary damages that Darabont is entitled to. Based on the outcomes of numerous vertical integration lawsuits of the past, including the recent litigation against Warner Bros. over Smallville financials, this particular dispute will most likely be settled out of court.
In the meantime, this is sure to be a big topic of discussion during the wait for the second half of The Walking Dead season 4. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has already weighed in on Twitter with the pithy remark, “go frank. fuck those ghoulish, dead-eyed scumbags in their green-gobbed asses. i ain’t talking about the zombies.” It looks like we might see more than a few people taking Darabont’s side.