Why 'The Walking Dead' is Better Off Without Frank Darabont

The Academy Award-nominated director is leaving the show in the hands of someone who actually understands television

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AMC's series The Walking Dead had a first season that was packed with the typical zombie drama: guns fired, heads blown off, people infected. But in the time between its first season finale and the upcoming premiere of its second season, the real drama on The Walking Dead has gone on off-camera.

The latest behind-the-scenes news on The Walking Dead came Tuesday, when Deadline reported that creator and executive producer Frank Darabont would step down from his role as showrunner on the hit series. Thursday, AMC released a frustratingly obtuse statement that both confirmed Darabont's departure and reassured viewers that The Walking Dead's second season will still premiere as scheduled on October 16th.

Though showrunners regularly come and go, it's rare for one as high-profile as Darabont—whose directing credits include The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile—to leave a series, and to do it so suddenly. It was less than a week ago that series creator Robert Kirkman praised Darabont as a man who "came along and never went away" during the series' development. Darabont himself has repeatedly expressed his own enthusiasm about working on the second season of the series. It's not yet clear why Darabont decided to step down as showrunner. But his departure will undoubtedly change the tone, scope, and direction of the series as it goes into its second season.

And that's exactly why it's the best thing that could have happened to The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead was last year's breakout TV hit. It earned dozens of glowing critical reviews, netted AMC its best-ever ratings, and - perhaps most significantly - became the most-viewed basic cable drama series of all time in the coveted 18-49 age demographic.

It has also, unexpectedly, become the lynchpin of AMC's original drama lineup. Fellow freshman series The Killing alienated its viewers with a disappointing season finale. Mad Men's fifth season premiere was delayed until 2012. Hell on Wheels, a period drama that debuts later this year, remains an unknown quantity. Breaking Bad carries significant critical cache—and earned series-best ratings with its season 4 premiere—but lacks The Walking Dead's broader appeal. Now more than ever, AMC needs The Walking Dead to bolster its newly-earned reputation as the channel for viewers who want quality dramatic television.

When I reviewed The Walking Dead series premiere last October, I gave Frank Darabont the majority of the credit for the series' stunning pilot episode, "Days Gone Bye." The two-hour premiere episode is one of the best pilots I've ever seen. From the opening scene of "Days Gone Bye", Darabont's meticulous direction imbues the post-apocalyptic world with a texture and scope that rivals anything seen in a movie theater.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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