How ‘The Walking Dead’ Changed the Course of the Television Revolution

“The Walking Dead” comes to an end on Sunday. Though I, like many viewers, stopped watching several seasons ago (well, around the time glenn died), attention should be paid.

If it’s not the real ending, honestly, can it really be considered an ending when there’s so many spin-offs in the works? — then to what it means.

“The Walking Dead” is the latest founding member of the 21st century television revolution. He leaves behind a popular culture and industry so different from the one he entered as to be almost unrecognizable.

AMC premiered its adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel vision of a zombie apocalypse on Comic Con 2010, back when geek fest was still a bit scrappy and new to the TV advertising game. The channel known as American Movie Classics was also new to the game, having released original scripted content just three years earlier, but it had done so decisively. A multi-award winning series, “Mad Men” quickly made such a deep and deeply fan cultural imprint that its infinitesimal viewership (its first season averaged 1.6 viewers, its highest-rated episode drew 3.5) seemed almost unheard of. importance.

(This was great for AMC’s second show, “Breaking Bad”which for all its rave reviews didn’t get a real audience until it started streaming on Netflix before its fourth season).

Ratings! Almost unimportant! Suddenly, HBO and other premium channels that didn’t rely on ratings had competition; the era of basic prestige cable television had begun.

In its face (often moldy and rotten), “The Walking Dead” did not fit the prestige model. True, HBO had successfully plunged into the swampy waters of the genre with Alan Ball’s “True Blood,” but that was vampires, and vampires have always been, as Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels demonstrated, at least a little. sexy.

Zombies, not much. Which, in the months leading up to debut, struck a lot of people as a problem. A series of zombies did not seem like the proper follow-up to “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Zombies are disgusting. A two hour movie? Penalty fee. A complete series? Who would see that?

Many more people than ever saw “Mad Men” and engaged with it with the same fanaticism.

As a critic at the time, I had watched the convergence of TV and fandom, all those roundup blogs, including ours, with interest and anticipation. The enormous popularity of movies like “Iron Man” and “Twilight” demonstrated the power of a deeply connected audience. Television was thriving on the unexpected, and a zombie epic was certainly unexpected.

And quite good, right out of the box. Yes, there were zombies and wild-eyed encounters with survivors, but it quickly became clear that the series was more of a world-building character study than monster mash-up.

The box it came out of was also impressive. On AMC, “Mad Men” was holding strong and “Breaking Bad” was gaining steam. HBO, which already had “Big Love” and “In Treatment”, premiered Boardwalk Empire (with a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese!) and “Treme.” Showtime, in the middle of “Dexter” and “Nurse Jackie,” brought Laura Linney back to the small screen with “The Big C”; FX, in the final season of “Nip/Tuck”, debuted with “Justified” and the “terriers” short lived but much loved. “Pretty Little Liars” came to ABC Family and became the first show to truly harness the power of Twitter.

“Adventure Time”Parenthood”“Louie” and “The Great British Bake Off”: A host of groundbreaking TV shows debuted in 2010 along with a ton of other great, not-so-great, and really bad shows.

It was a heady time for anyone writing about television because everyone was talking about television. All time. I remember our late, great food critic Jonathan Gold sighing in my general direction: “It used to be restaurants, now it’s TV.”

Not entirely true, but still, remarkable.

In all this rode Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and the iconic image of a lone man on horseback making his way down the middle of a highway lined with abandoned cars toward a silent city teeming with the dead, while millions cheered.

And he gasped and howled and laughed and cried. Zombies were disgusting, but they, like vampires, were also us, as were the diverse array of survivors.

Most importantly, “TWD” proved that in this brave new world, where virtually every TV platform, including the History Channel, was or soon would be airing scripted content, cachet didn’t have to mean boutique. Debuting with a respectable cable average of 5.6 million, “The Walking Dead” at its peak drew more than 17 million viewers, a tremendous number for the time, even by broadcast standards.

By comparison, “Downton Abbey,” which debuted just a few months after “TWD,” hit a peak of just over 13 million. “Downton” became one of the few prestigious shows to have high ratings and multiple Emmy nominations; For reasons known only to them, the television academy has ignored “The Walking Dead” throughout its 11 seasons.

Even without the awards season press that proved vital to so many emerging shows and platforms, “The Walking Dead” quickly became one of the most talked about shows on television. So much so that in 2011, AMC launched “Talking Dead,” a live post-show series in which host Chris Hardwick interviewed fans, actors, and creators about the episode that had just aired.

Why let the eyes roll to critics, bloggers and other platforms when you can have the conversation directly on AMC?

The popularity and just a bit of cynical ingenuity, the plan established a template for virtually all major shows to build second-platform products, whether they be post-shows, streaming add-ons, or in-house podcasts.

But the world of television has changed since 2010. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other streaming services have made it increasingly difficult to keep track of new shows as they premiere, no matter how they focus the cultural conversation or even a committed fan on some shows.

The ability to see what you want to see when you want to see it means you’re often watching alone, which makes talking about TV much more difficult than talking about, say, restaurants. Fandoms still exist, but they are more diffuse.

After 11 seasons, it’s no surprise that viewership for “The Walking Dead” has dropped precipitously: This season’s average of 2.2 million might have been fine for “Mad Men” or even “Better Call Saul,” one of the critics’ favorite that drew 1.8 million for its series finale (2.7 when delayed viewing is taken into account). But for “TWD” it unfortunately means ending with more of a whimper than a bang.

Although as mentioned above, it is not an ending. With “Fear the Walking Dead” entering its eighth season, “Tales of the Walking Dead” debuting in August and at least three more spin-offs in the pipeline, the show many feared would tarnish AMC’s groundbreaking legacy. has come to define it.

Franchise fever has reached the small screen. We also have the “Walking Dead” to thank for that.

To read this note in Spanish click here.

How ‘The Walking Dead’ Changed the Course of the Television Revolution