AMC enters the ‘Dead’ zone

Cabler addresses Darabont, 'Killing' at TCA sesh

With network president Charlie Collier out of town, AMC’s senior VP of original programming Joel Stillerman was the man on the front lines at the Television Critics Assn. confab Thursday to discuss recent developments on “The Walking Dead” and “The Killing.”

Earlier this week, “Walking Dead” showrunner Frank Darabont exited the show. Though some speculated he left because the pace of television was more hectic than what he was comfortable with, other sources have said there was growing tension surrounding Darabont’s vision of “The Walking Dead” for season two and that he was not interested in adhering to the notes given by the network.

Darabont is best known as a feature film director, helming pics such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.” It’s difficult to say whether he walked out on his own or was let go.

Stillerman wouldn’t confirm that account. He said, “There’s not much to add to the specifics of the situation. It’s something that happened and we’re moving on.”

The change came at an interesting time for AMC’s top-rated series. The cast and crew are knee deep in their production schedule for season two, and many of the stories have already been broken. With Darabont out, writer Glen Mazzara was given the task of taking over as showrunner.

The skein also had a well-attended and lively session at Comic-Con in San Diego last weekend.

“I can’t comment on what led up to this, but the timing is never great to make a change like this,” Stillerman said.

Scribes gathered at the BevHilton also were interested in AMC’s assessment of “The Killing,” the drama that saw a backlash when the seasonlong murder mystery wasn’t wrapped up in the last episode.

Stillerman said he was fine with the way showrunner Veena Sud ended the season creatively, but that the message to audiences in whether the killer would be revealed wasn’t well handled.

“We certainly would have taken a different approach to managing expectations,” he said. “It was never our intention to mislead anyone. Our goal was to do something different than was done in the space before.”

On the upside, AMC has seen ratings growth for the fourth season of “Breaking Bad,” but has yet to give an order for a fifth season; a decision will need to be made shortly. The actors’ renewal options are up in about a month and Stillerman said he and his team would decide by then whether to greenlight another season.

If they decide to pass, producer Sony Pictures Television would have the option to shop it to another network.

In other series news, the fifth season of “Mad Men” will begin production Aug. 8, with Jon Hamm directing the first episode.

Up next is oater “Hell on Wheels,” set to debut Nov. 6. Net is hoping to cash in on the enthusiasm it received with its 2006 Western movie “Broken Trail,” which helped solidify the cabler as a major player in scripted programming.

The net also announced the formation of its own digital studio. First project is Web series “The Trivial Pursuit of Arthur Banks,” starring Adam Goldberg and Jeffrey Tambor.