‘Walking Dead’ Not Close to the Finish Line Despite End of Comic, AMC Programming Chief Says

TCA 2019: “We’ve diverged from the comic long ago,” David Madden tells TheWrap

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

“The Walking Dead” faces two losses as it heads into its 10th season this fall: the departure of main castmember Danai Gurira; and the abrupt ending of the comic book series that served as its source material. Yet AMC’s programming chief argues the zombie series is nowhere near its expiration date.

“Once ‘Game of Thrones’ is technically off the air, it’s the No. 2 show on TV,” David Madden, president of programming, entertainment networks, told TheWrap on Thursday. “You don’t sneeze at it being No. 2 out of the three billion shows that are on TV.” Madden admitted they were initially worried that the audience would drop off after lead Andrew Lincoln left the show in the middle of last season.

“The episode that followed his departure dropped 1% from the previous episode,” Madden said. “That, we thought, was stunningly strong in terms of a hold. I think the show still has — with Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Jeffrey Dean Morgan — a lot of characters who are truly beloved on the show.”

The aging series has seen steep ratings declines across the past few years, with viewership numbers for Season 9 coming in well below the previous season (its ninth season finale was an all-time low). However, despite the downward trend — which is more or less in line with across-the-board cable ratings declines in recent years — the once-massively popular zombie drama remains the most-watched non-sports program on cable.

That’s why Madden argues the show still has a lot of life left it in. “I’m not saying the show will go 20 seasons, but I’m not saying it won’t,” said Madden.

The future of “The Walking Dead” came into question earlier this month when Robert Kirkman abruptly ended his comic that the series was based on. At the time, AMC promised the series and its spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead” would not be affected by Kirkman’s surprising decision. “Fear” was recently renewed for a sixth season and a third “Walking Dead” series will premiere next year, giving AMC three shows set in the “Walking Dead” universe in 2020.

“We’ve diverged from the comic long ago. We’re now telling our own story,” Madden said. “I don’t think, either in the show’s mind or in Kirkman’s mind, the end of the comic book really affects the plan for the show.” Though he added that he was just surprised as everyone else. “None of us knew… I think it was a surprise to him. I think he got to a point where he said, ‘You know, what I think this is done.’”

As for the third series, which begins shooting on Monday, Madden said the network hasn’t decided on when it will air next year, or that if it will even have “Walking Dead” in the title. The untitled series will focus on the first generation to come-of-age in the universe’s zombie apocalypse. “The new show is really on its own separate path. It’s a different feel and different tone,” he said. “It won’t look anything like the other two shows.”

Along with the three “Walking Dead” TV shows, the burgeoning franchise is heading to the big screen with Lincoln reprising his Rick Grimes role in a movie, with Universal on board to give it a theatrical run. Madden said that, while they were certainly happy to give “Walking Dead” the big-screen treatment, they were never counting on it.

“It could’ve ended up with us, it could’ve ended up at a streaming platform,” he said. “It’s a big dream to have a current TV show that is still on the air to have a feature film incarnation. That doesn’t happen very often.”