These networks all passed on what would become the highest-rated show on US TV

No one wanted it.
No one wanted it.
Image: AMC Networks
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ABC, NBC, Fox, FX, and TNT were all offered shots at developing The Walking Dead, before it landed at AMC. And each of those TV networks passed on the zombie show, which has gone on to become the most-watched TV series in the US.

The details, along with others related to the development and economics of the show, were revealed in newly released court documents from a bitter legal dispute between the show’s co-creator, Frank Darabont, his agents at Creative Artists Agency, and the show’s network, AMC Networks. Darabont, who was fired during season two, argues that AMC licensed the show it produced to its cable-network affiliate for too little money, and therefore cheated him out of contingent profits.

Darabont’s CAA agent Bruce Vinokour was asked to detail the networks that turned down The Walking Dead in his deposition.

NBC initially developed The Walking Dead’s script as part of an agreement with Darabont for two blank scripts. The US broadcaster reportedly wanted The Walking Dead to be a procedural in which two main protagonists solved a “zombie crime of the week.” Vinokour said:

We received a pass from NBC, where the script was originally developed. We received a pass from ABC. We did not submit the script to CBS, none of the networks. It wasn’t appropriate for CBS’s audience. And we received a pass from Fox. And so we had received passes from the networks.

Vinokour said CBS’s audience, whose median age is nearly 60, was seen as too old of a demographic for the show. He could not recall whether the show was submitted to the CW, which is geared toward younger viewers. And, on the cable-TV side, he said TNT and FX passed on the script as well. “Those are the two that come to my mind right off the top of my head,” he said.

In March 2009, negotiations began to bring The Walking Dead to AMC, which Vinokour described as “the last stop” for the show. Then a niche cable network, AMC was just beginning to build its name with dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. AMC’s lawyer used the line of questioning, along with others in the court documents, to help establish the network as the only one willing to take the financial risk on the show.

Of course, the bet paid off big for AMC. The Walking Dead has been the highest-rated scripted show on US TV with the 18-49 audience segment coveted by advertisers for the past five years. That’s on a live-and three-day-viewing basis.

While its ratings, overall, have fallen in the last two seasons from its peak, The Walking Dead is still a cultural phenomenon. And it likely booked more than $1 billion in gross receipts, or total revenue received by the studio and reported to participants like producers, directors, and actors who get a cut of the profits, during its seven-year run, the Hollywood Reporter reported, based on the court documents.

The publication says the receipts make its one of the most prosperous cable-TV dramas ever.