Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s conference coverage.
The Walking Dead exec producer Gale Anne Hurd admitted this afternoon that one of the hazards of her job is receiving death threats from the rabid fan base of smash hit AMC zombie drama when it dares to kill off a character. “That’s one of the dirty little secrets of social media,” she admitted during a session at the Produced By conference on the Fox lot. “The fans so identify with the characters that if you kill them off… well, first they’re in denial. It’s really the stages of grief. They say, ‘That gunshot off camera, they aren’t really dead, they’re coming back.’ And then they get angry. They threaten to hunt you down. They don’t understand the difference between reality and fantasy.”
For the most part, however, the experience of being the highest-rated drama in cable history is a far more rewarding and less dangerous experience, Hurd and her fellow panelists agreed. She was joined at the event by Walking Dead exec producer David Alpert; Sharon Tal Yguado, EVP of global scripted programming and original development for Fox International Channels; and Marci Wiseman, SVP of business affairs for AMC. They discussed the how the show originally and famously was rejected at the pilot stage by NBC. Alpert recalled how when the comic book rights were sold to NBC in 2005, the network told him, “We want to do something totally different.” He remembered, “When they passed, I said, ‘But I thought you wanted to do something totally different.’ They said, ‘We do. We just don’t want to do a zombie show.’ That was one of the more frustrating things.”
Frank Darabont was initially resistant to take the show to AMC, or any cable network, fearful of having a repeat of the NBC experience. But it wound up finding not only a creative home, but one that provided the springboard for an international phenomenon. And once it landed at AMC, Hurd recalled, things moved quickly. “We pitched it in October and we were airing — having already shot the first six episodes — by the following October.” Hurd stressed that the creative freedom the show received at AMC has been pretty much unprecedented in her experience. “AMC gives fantastic notes,” she said. “We haven’t received one censorship note — ever. They’ve been an unbelievable creative partner.” The show is indeed also a huge hit internationally, even in China where “they have a resistance to flesh-eating characters,” Alpert said. Wiseman also stressed the unprecedented success of The Talking Dead, the companion talk show that accompanies each original episode. It averages more than four million viewers “and I think it beats most of NBC’s shows in primetime,” she said. “Not that we’re going after NBC.” Walking Dead is set to return for its fourth season in October, though no premiere date has been announced.