It was as inevitable as human brains at a zombie cookout. The five years of massive television ratings success for AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has finally sparked the launch of a series inspired by the hit: “Fear the Walking Dead.”
The new show features the same basic idea of humans battling zombies. The biggest difference is that the action takes place in Los Angeles at the beginning of the undead apocalypse that has caused “The Walking Dead” so many angst-filled moments over five seasons.
“The Walking Dead” is the highest-rated series on TV during the week when original episodes air, averaging 18.3 million viewers. Until the first few weeks of ratings have been posted for “Fear the Walking Dead,” it won’t be clear if this spinoff is a hit or miss.
Here are some arguments of why “Fear the Walking Dead” will succeed and some ideas of why it could fail.
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1. Finally, some background: A constant topic of “The Walking Dead” is how the world became overrun with the undead and how it can be stopped. Because “Fear the Walking Dead” will take place at the start of the change, there will be more information released as to what has caused the outbreak.
2. The write stuff: Robert Kirkman, the man behind the original “The Walking Dead” comics and TV show based on his books, has written the scripts for the new series. Kirkman is masterful at blending plot development with fascinating characters
“Fear the Walking Dead” co-executive producer Dave Erickson says the spinoff has given Kirkman a chance to examine elements that he couldn’t work into “The Walking Dead” series. The idea for creating a spinoff was first discussed two years ago.
3 . Name game: The producers were right to keep “Walking Dead” in the title. And they didn’t opt for something cheesy like “The Walking Dead: Los Angeles.” Erickson is convinced the spinoff will become known simply as “Fear.”
“I think ‘Fear’ is going to become the shorthand title for the show,” Erickson says. “There was a practical reason to do it, but I also think it speaks very much to what the characters are going to go through, obviously, and where the show is going to go to a certain degree.”
4. Easy connection: The two main characters in the first episodes of “The Walking Dead” were both police officers. That meant they had a certain degree of training with guns and fighting. The characters in “Fear” have more mainstream jobs, such as shop owner and teacher.
“It was important that we started from a place where we had characters who are completely unprepared for what was to come. And we’ve got a teacher, a guidance counselor. It was very much by design, and I think it’s something that was specific that Robert wanted to bring to it when this all began,” Erickson says.
5. Already renewed: Weeks before the first season opener, AMC announced the go ahead for season two. The first season will only be six episodes; season two will feature 15 episodes.
1. Slow walkers: “The Walking Dead” launched with the zombie apocalypse in full swing. That meant there were plenty of scenes with herds of walkers shuffling toward humans. Look for “the infected” to make a slower appearance.
“We purposely built the show a little bit more slowly than the original. There will be a build. We will get to a place over the course of the season where we will see elements of the original show sort of thread in throughout our story. But it is by design,” Erickson says. “We tried to slow burn the story, make it as much about the anxiety and tension and paranoia that goes with this outbreak as much as it is about the actual confrontations with zombies.”
2 . No Rick Grimes: “The Walking Dead” would not have lasted past the first season had it not been for the supremely under-appreciated acting work by Andrew Lincoln. Had Lincoln been turning in the same deep, heart-felt and often crazed performance on a traditional drama, he would have already been a multiple Emmy winner.
It falls to the likes of Cliff Curtis, who plays a high school English teacher, or Kim Dickens, who is a guidance counselor, to be the leader of the “Fear” group. They may rise to the challenge, but they will have mountain of zombies to climb to come close to Lincoln’s work.
3. Didn’t learn from mistakes: One of the biggest complaints against “The Walking Dead” is that minorities don’t seem to last too long. The first episode of “Fear” doesn’t bode well for minorities again. Erickson says the minority death count isn’t going to be a problem.
“We have an incredibly diverse show and a diverse cast,” Erickson says. “I think, by its nature, it’s a zombie apocalypse and people die. So if the majority of our cast is Latino, black, Asian, people are going to get bit. People are going to die. So, no, I wouldn’t worry about it. There will be a balance, absolutely, because there’s a number of white characters who die over the course of the first few episodes as well.”
4. It’s all about location: “The Walking Dead” story unfolds in the rural areas of Georgia. The spinoff was intentionally set in an urban backdrop because the producers wanted something that was a direct counterpoint to the original show and the green of Georgia. The problem with a story unfolding in a major city is that there are more opportunities for supplies. A major strength of “The Walking Dead” is the constant search for food, water and ammunition. There will be a lot more places to search in Los Angeles.
Plus, the visuals of a pack of zombies shuffling through the woods is far more primal than seeing one drag itself past a corner restaurant.
5. It’s not the original: There have been spinoffs such as all of the “CSI” and “Law & Order” offerings that have been hits. There also have been a long string of failed spinoffs, including “Joey,” “Mrs. Columbo,” “The Lone Gunmen” and “That 80s Show.”
Only time will tell if fans of “The Walking Dead” will be so rabid about the franchise they watch the new show.
“Fear the Walking Dead”
- 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, AMC