You tend to associate the sudden mass firings of staff members with TV series that are not, shall we say, doing well. So it was surprising to see reports that, after The Walking Dead became AMC’s biggest hit and one of the biggest cable hits of the year overnight, producer Frank Darabont was firing the entire writing staff. What’s more, reports Deadline.com, Darabont is considering not replacing the staff at all, but instead using freelancers for season 2.
I’m puzzled. And I’m sympathetic to the staffers suddenly losing their jobs. But for a few reasons I’m not too worried—yet, anyway.
The first reason is that, while I’m not privy to the workings of The Walking Dead’s writers’ room, the bulk of the writing staff had relatively little input, at least final-credits-wise, on the abbreviated first season. Darabont wrote the first two episodes and co-wrote the rest—one of which was co-written by the zombie graphic novels’ creator, Robert Kirkman. That’s not to say that the fired staffers had nothing to do with making the series that we saw, but unless they’re being denied credit, they’re not responsible for the bulk of it.
The second reason, I’ll admit, somewhat contradicts the first. And that is—not to tear down a series I’ve really enjoyed or kick anyone while they’re down—the writing in the series, on a sheer line-for-line dialogue basis, has not been its strong point (the way it demonstrably is on a show like, say, Mad Men). The Walking Dead has an extremely strong basic story, a well-imagined premise, excellent visuals and tension and mood. Where it’s been weakest, as I’ve said in my reviews, has been the delineation of characters—particularly by establishing their distinctive voices—and the dialogue.
Again, without knowing who’s exactly done what, I don’t know if this move will help or hurt. For all I know the people who got cut were improving on Darabont’s work, and using a staff of freelancers could enliven the show or rob it of consistency. But while the particulars of the move are perplexing, I don’t mind that the show is making some changes on the writing front, especially with a much longer season to prepare.
In other firing news came a move that was also surprising but made more traditional sense: CBS is jettisoning the host crew of its perennially third-rated morning program, The Early Show. Morning news is a big source of revenue for network TV, and CBS has been trying to solve its problem literally as long as I’ve been doing my job: one of my first pieces for TIME in 1999 was about the great hope that Bryant Gumbel was going to resuscitate the show.
He didn’t, nor has anyone since, and so Maggie Rodriguez and longtime CBS host Harry Smith are gone. Will you miss them? Did you know that CBS had a morning news show?