Andrew Lincoln stars as Rick Grimes in "The Walking Dead." AMC… (Frank Ockenfels / AMC )
Just in time for the holidays, AMC has quite a surprise for fans of “The Walking Dead.” The megahit zombie series has been picked up for a fourth season, but will continue without showrunner Glen Mazzara at the helm.
In a statement Friday announcing the show’s pickup – all but a foregone conclusion, given its record-setting ratings – AMC also dropped the bombshell that Mazzara would no longer be involved with the series beyond the current season, which resumes in February.
“The two parties have mutually decided to part ways," AMC said in the statement. "Glen guided the series creatively for seasons 2 and 3. AMC is grateful for his hard work. We are both proud of our shared success.”
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The statement strongly hints at creative differences between Mazzara and the powers that be at AMC: “Both parties acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward, and conclude that it is best to part ways. This decision is amicable and Glen will remain on for post-production on season 3B as showrunner and executive producer.”
Given the show's gangbuster ratings -- it recently became the first cable series to win the fall TV ratings in the much-coveted 18-to-49 demographic -- a creative shakeup of this magnitude comes as a big surprise.
But adding to the drama is the fact that Mazzara is now the second showrunner to part from “The Walking Dead” under mysterious circumstances, following the exit of series creator Frank Darabont during production of season 2.
When Darabont left, there were rumors of conflicts over budget and creative direction – many fans and critics were frustrated by the show’s meandering second season – but under Mazzara, the first half of season 3 of “The Walking Dead” appeared to be back on track.
So why are the showrunners at "The Walking Dead" about as safe and secure as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse? It's unclear. Whatever the case may be, AMC and the various creative forces behind the show are maintaining a public show of unity – for now, anyway.
“My time as showrunner on 'The Walking Dead' has been an amazing experience, but after I finish season 3, it’s time to move on,” Mazzara said in a statement. “I have told the stories I wanted to tell and connected with our fans on a level that I never imagined. It doesn’t get much better than that. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey.”
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Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd weighed in with a statement signaling her support for the decision and her confidence “that the series is in great hands with one of the most talented and dedicated casts and crews in the business.”
And executive producer Robert Kirkman, author of the graphic novels on which “The Walking Dead” is based, had this to say: “I am in full support of both AMC and Glen Mazzara in the decision they have come to and believe the parties came to this decision in the best interest of the future of the show. … I believe the future is bright for 'The Walking Dead.' Thank you to the fans for your continued support.”