Earlier this week, fans of AMC’s immensely popular zombie drama The Walking Dead were given a very special treat: news that the show’s companion series, with a working title of Fear the Walking Dead, had been picked up for two seasons by AMC. Season One will kick off this summer with six one-hour episodes, while Season 2 will come in 2016. Details on the spin-off have been scarce. We know that the pilot was penned by Walking Dead mastermind Robert Kirkman and Sons of Anarchy producer Dave Erickson, who will serve as the new series’ showrunner, and it’s set in Los Angeles. We’ve also learned that the leads will be actors Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider) and Kim Dickens (House of Cards), with the former playing a divorced ex-schoolteacher.
On Friday evening at SXSW, The Daily Beast hosted a dinner and discussion at the Palm Door restaurant in Downtown Austin, Texas, on how serialized dramas have taken the country by storm. The multidisciplinary talk was emceed by Beast Editor-in-Chief John Avlon, and one of the participants was none other than David Alpert, the executive producer of The Walking Dead (and its spin-off). Alpert runs the production company Skybound Entertainment with Kirkman, and played an integral role in getting both The Walking Dead and its upcoming companion series to our televisions.
“When we were tasked with the idea of creating a companion show, we didn’t want to do the traditional thing where we’d take Joey from Friends and create Joey,” Alpert said. “So we boiled it down to what we thought were the core tenets and principles of The Walking Dead as a show—obviously zombies being one of them, but it’s mostly about emotionally investing yourself in these characters.”
According to Alpert, while the show will take place in the same universe as what he calls its “mother show,” The Walking Dead, it will be a drastically different animal.
“It’s not quite a prequel,” said Alpert. “We’re going to play with the timeline a little bit, so you’ll be seeing things that you haven’t seen on [The Walking Dead]. It’s in an entirely different location—we shot the pilot in Los Angeles—and we’re going to invest ourselves in these characters that are nuanced, detailed, and honestly really f--ked up and having these awful experiences between themselves, and trying to find a way, as a lot of us do. You have an ex-wife, you have an ex-husband, and you’re trying to find out, ‘How do I pick up the kids from school?’ and just when you think you can barely hold on, zombies start coming.”
He added, “There’s going to be six seconds that reference the mother show. Six seconds. Other than that, the show will be an entirely stand-alone thing. The rules will be the same: zombies don’t talk, and there will be no zombie animals. But other than that, as far as references and things, there will only be a few Easter eggs—and those six seconds.”
Alpert also told a story of the time they initially sold The Walking Dead to a major TV network, NBC, and how immensely frustrating the process was.
“The book was originally published in 2003, and we sold it in 2005 to NBC,” Alpert recalled. “I remember sitting down with the president of NBC at the time and saying, ‘You want to put this on your network?’ and I held up the book and it has a picture of a zombie with blood all over his face and scared Rick holding a gun. ‘This is never going to go on NBC.’ The exec said, ‘No, we’re going to do something different and really shake things up!’ So we delivered the script exactly the way we said we would, and they passed. And I called them up and said, ‘Hey, remember me? Why didn’t you pick it up?’ and he said, ‘I can’t put zombies on NBC!’”
Apparently, the Peacock prefers their zombies hosting the Nightly News.