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Hits bring growing pains for AMC

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Forget the zombies and drug dealers. Some of the best intrigue at AMC is happening behind the scenes, as producers of hits such as Breaking Bad, The Killing, and The Walking Dead have inspired dramatic headlines in recent weeks.

A few days after taking a promotional victory lap at Comic-Con, Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont stunned fans by exiting the breakout smash during production on its second season. Though the story is based heavily on the comic-book series by executive producer Robert Kirkman, it’s Darabont who gets credit for being the braaaains behind the show. No official reason was given for Darabont’s departure, but he complained publicly about budget concerns on the show (AMC’s boosting the order from six to 13 episodes for season 2 resulted in its per-episode allotment taking a dip). Also, sources say the cinema veteran had a tough time adjusting to the demands of a TV series. AMC appointed Darabont’s second-in-command, Glen Mazzara (The Shield), to take the reins, and still plans for Dead to return on Oct. 16. ”Frank’s contribution was incredible. Not to minimize it, but we have a great team moving forward,” says AMC’s senior VP of programming, Joel Stillerman.

Over on Breaking Bad, the show’s recent fourth-season premiere delivered a series-high 2.6 million viewers. But renewal talks have studio Sony threatening to take Bad to another network (unlikely). Showrunner Vince Gilligan gave an interview saying he doesn’t see the series continuing after next season. Not so fast, says AMC. ”There’s nothing definitive on that show,” says Stillerman. ”We need to make a decision on season 5, and then we’ll decide with Vince and with Sony if that’s it or if it can be ongoing.”

The news on Dead and Bad comes just months after protracted negotiations with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner led to a season 5 delay until 2012. And some fans of AMC’s The Killing are still smarting over the June cliff-hanger finale, which prompted the network to reassure critics at a press conference on July 28 that we will find out who killed Rosie Larsen next year. For all its difficulties, though, AMC is on track to have its best year ever. Now that it’s the place to be on basic cable, every decision — for better or worse — makes news. ”We’re fortunate to be in business with some incredibly talented people, and yes, we’ve had some challenges, and it’s unfortunate when they play out in public,” says Stillerman. ”But we’ve had a phenomenal year.”

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