Tag Archives: Dave Erickson

Dave Erickson: Giving new life to Dead franchise

After several near-misses, Fear The Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson tells Michael Pickard why this was the right time to join the world of the ‘walkers.’

For Dave Erickson, it seemed the opportunity might never arise. Having almost joined the writing team of The Walking Dead on several occasions, the timing was never quite right.

But when AMC announced a companion series to its hit zombie drama, Erickson finally landed his chance – as showrunner, no less – and is now steering a show that shattered cable records when it launched in August.

“I wrote a pilot based on a treatment by (The Walking Dead creator) Robert Kirkman five years ago. I didn’t know Robert or his work, but I started reading his comics,” Erickson tells DQ. “Shortly after, The Walking Dead launched on AMC and I danced around working for him on that show a couple of times but never actually did.

Dave Erickson (right) alongside FTWD exec producer Gale Anne Hurd
Dave Erickson (right) alongside FTWD exec producer Gale Anne Hurd

“I was always working. It coincided with my time working for Kurt Sutter on Sons of Anarchy. There was always an overlap; there was never a window of time that I could have done a season of The Walking Dead without it conflicting with Sons.

“But (Kirkman) and I stayed in touch, and when he came up with the idea to do the new series, he called to see if I was available – and I was.”

That new series, Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD), launched on AMC to record ratings for a series launch in terms of both total viewers (10.13 million) and adults aged 18-49 (6.3 million).

The story follows the struggles of one family living in LA at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse.

With its six-episode first season drawing to a close in October, the show has already been renewed for a 15-episode season to air in 2016. Season six of The Walking Dead also begins in October.

Signing up for FTWD, Erickson says he was aware of the popularity of the original series – which is regularly described as the biggest show on TV and draws ratings that dwarf those of many network shows. But it wasn’t until he appeared at San Diego Comic-Con this summer that the magnitude of its fandom became clear.

“I’m a bit of a luddite, I don’t track the ratings, but I knew how big The Walking Dead was,” he explains. “However, I didn’t get caught up in it until Comic-Con. It was my first one, and it was an interesting awakening getting up close and personal with the fanbase.

Erickson says there are no plans at present for the two Walking Dead shows to synchronise timelines
Erickson says there are no plans at present for the two Walking Dead shows to synchronise timelines

“What was interesting to me (about FTWD) was the way Robert looked back at the comics and the original show and saw elements he hadn’t fully explored. He saw opportunities for more narrative. Because the original series begins with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) waking up from a coma, there’s a big chunk of story readers and the audience never got to see. There’s the opportunity to see the fall of a major city and the building blocks of the apocalypse, but he was also interested in exploring specific thematics.

“He was very interested in the theme of violence. The Walking Dead goes from zero to apocalypse very quickly. Robert’s point in our show is that killing is hard – and because the walkers (The Walking Dead universe’s term for zombies) are ‘fresher,’ they seem human.

“So it’s a physical challenge to stop a walker but it also takes an emotional toll. There’s psychological trauma that goes with that, and Robert felt that was something he hadn’t had the opportunity to do in the original.”

Erickson was also able to bring his own ideas to the show, most notably the struggles of the central family. “The idea of a blended family and resentful children of divorce was something I wanted to explore,” he says. “The great irony for me is that, fundamentally, it’s a family drama. It’s a story of two parents trying to rein in this dysfunctional family and bring them under one roof and the only way that happens is because of the onset of the zombie apocalypse.”

As well as Sons of Anarchy, the FX crime drama that ended after seven seasons last December, the showrunner’s credits include another AMC series, Low Winter Sun, and Netflix original series Marco Polo.

He cites Sons creator Kurt Sutter as one of his showrunning role models, alongside Low Winter Sun’s Chris Mundy.

Speaking about creating the first season of FTWD, he says: “We had more lead time because Robert and I had written a pilot. We’d also done a fairly comprehensive season arc so we had a very specific line for the first six episodes.

FTWD achieved the most successful series premiere in US cable history
FTWD achieved the most successful series premiere in US cable history

“When the writers room was assembled, we were working off this document, but the great thing about bringing the room together and getting fresh eyes on your material is you realise sometimes there are other options and the choices you made may not be the best ones. It’s pretty much the same set-up as we had for Sons of Anarchy. Marco Polo was the same too. The room comes together and it’s about talking through characters and trying to figure out how they respond to whatever obstacle or conflict you throw at them.”

Going into season two, does Erickson have a map for the rest of the series? “I have arcs in mind, I have scenes in mind,” he says. “I have moments for specific characters and places I want to land. It’s just a question as things evolve whether they will be included in season four or season seven, for example. I need some kind of end point for an episode and a season. It doesn’t mean that won’t change as you get deeper into the story, but I like to have mile markers.”

Despite FTWD and The Walking Dead being set in the same zombie-ravaged universe, Erickson says the two are fundamentally different shows and that there are no plans to synchronise their timelines any time soon.

“It’s not a priority right now. It’s about letting our show and our characters evolve and seeing how that defines the chronology,” he explains. “We have the same DNA; the show lives under the same mythological umbrella as The Walking Dead and the comic. The walkers are infected, they have similar rules, they die the same way and they come back the same way. But it’s become its own thing.

“It does have a different base – it’s slower at the beginning because I’m taking time to develop the family. We have time to examine the family dynamic – whereas in the original show, they went ‘full zombie’ very quickly and the family drama element was always at par or catching up with the apocalypse itself.

“We’re able to examine smaller stories on this larger apocalyptic stage. It’s very much a smaller story set against this larger backdrop, as opposed to the larger backdrop being established first and trying to play on that. It’s definitely apocalyptic – we depict the fall of civilisation – but I think we found a way to do that through a very specific filter and a very specific lens.”

On the back of its record-breaking debut, FTWD has proved an able companion for The Walking Dead. With web series Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462 set to launch alongside its season one finale, fans are certain to get their fill of zombies before season two returns next year.

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Spin it to win it: The rising popularity of spin-off series

As AMC prepares to launch Fear The Walking Dead, Michael Pickard looks at the trend towards producing spin-offs of popular shows and examines why such series are so popular with television networks.

In the increasingly congested world of television drama, it takes a brave commissioner to back a slate of original series for fear they might crash and burn without ever breaking into the public consciousness.

So what better way to offer new programming and give viewers more of what they like than to build on an existing hit series?

Reboots, re-imaginings, prequels, sequels and companion series are nothing new, of course.

Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead
Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead

Among the biggest successes was The Bionic Woman, a follow-up to 1970s series The Six Million Dollar Man, while Star Trek: The Original Series led to countless continuations, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

Stargate SG-1 led to Infinity, Atlantis and Universe; Doctor Who branched off with Torchwood; and, more recently, The Vampire Diaries spawned The Originals, Pretty Little Liars moved to Ravenswood and Once Upon a Time led to Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

In Britain, the success of time-travelling police drama Life on Mars led to hard-hitting detective Gene Hunt getting his own series in follow-up Ashes to Ashes, while Inspector Morse was followed by sequel Lewis and prequel Endeavour.

Perhaps the most famous examples of spin-offs are the long-running procedural series that have been reworked for multiple locations across the US. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, set in Las Vegas, was spun off for New York and Miami, and also led to cyber-crime series CSI: Cyber.

JAG led to NCIS, which itself has had spin-offs NCIS: Los Angeles, failed pilot Red and New Orleans.

Meanwhile, another long-running series, Law & Order, led to Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury and Los Angeles, and has been adapted in the UK and Russia.

Elsewhere, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was followed by Angel, and Chicago Fire is now part of an NBC franchise created by Law & Order’s Dick Wolf that includes Chicago PD and Chicago Med.

The list goes on – and it’s about to get even longer.

Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD, pictured top), which launches on US cable network AMC on August 23, is a “companion series” to the hugely successful zombie drama The Walking Dead, which is now entering its sixth season on the same channel.

Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?
Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?

Ahead of the spin-off’s launch, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman shared his hopes for the new series in an open letter, in which he hinted that Fear will stand alone from its parent show.

“Here we go again,” he begins. “I don’t say that with the exhausted tone one might expect coming from someone embarking on a companion show while also working on the sixth season of the original. Truth be told, I would have to fill this space with exclamation points to accurately represent just how excited I am about Fear the Walking Dead. It’s so cool for me to be expanding The Walking Dead universe in such exciting and new ways.”

Kirkman, who created the comic book on which The Walking Dead is based, says the original series has always been about the characters – and the spin-off series gives him and the writing team the chance to introduce a new band of survivors in their post-outbreak world.

“These people have their own experiences and reasons to survive,” he explains. “They’re complicated, real characters who will not be dealing with the undead the same way. They’ll learn new things, they’ll find new tools, they’ll learn faster or slower. But what we end up with is a very, very different show… set in a world we love exploring as much as we’d all never want to live there.”

At a recent Television Critics Association panel to discuss the series, FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson separated the two shows further by stating that, unlike those in the original, characters the new series won’t use the term ‘walkers’ to describe the zombies.

Executive producer Dave Alpert added: “The show (The Walking Dead) in season six is different from what’s happening in season one and there were so many questions about what happened in season one that we thought it was a ripe area that wouldn’t tread on the mothership. We look at Fear as unique enough to stand on its own with characters you’d be invested in.”

With the trend for spin-offs showing no sign of slowing down, surely expanding what’s arguably the biggest show on television has to be a safe bet.

AMC certainly believes there are more stories to tell in the Walking Dead world, with FTWD already building on its six-part first season with a 15-episode second run in the works.

Another show that could get a companion series is music drama Empire. Creator Lee Daniels teased the idea when discussing the Fox series, which is preparing for its season two launch, as it is already known that he’s developing another drama about an all-girl band called Star.

Spin-off series offer fans the chance to enjoy more of their favourite television series by expanding the world in which they’re set, so long as they contain engaging characters and unique stories. They can also lead to ‘event’ crossover episodes – as is the case with Arrow and The Flash on The CW.

But if variety is the spice of life, TV networks might be wise to ensure they don’t rely on diluting their most popular franchises for fear of fulfilling the law of diminishing returns.

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