How ‘The Walking Dead’ modified the course of the TV revolution

“The Walking Dead” involves an finish on Sunday. Although I, like many viewers, stopped watching a number of seasons in the past (OK, just about when Glenn died), consideration have to be paid.

If to not the precise finale — truthfully, can it actually be thought-about a finale when there are such a lot of spin-offs within the works? — then to what it means.

“The Walking Dead” is the final founding member of the 21 century’s tv revolution. It leaves a preferred tradition and trade so totally different from the one it entered that it’s all however unrecognizable.

AMC debuted its adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic-novel imaginative and prescient of a zombie apocalypse in 2010 at Comedian-Con, again when the geek fest was nonetheless sort of scrappy and new to the TV publicity recreation. The channel often called American Film Classics was new to the sport too, having launched authentic scripted content material simply three years earlier, however it had finished it decisively. “Mad Men,” a multiple-award-winning collection, shortly left such a deep — and deeply fanatical — cultural footprint that its infinitesimal viewership (its first season averaged 1.6 viewers, its highest rated episode drew 3.5) appeared nearly unimportant.

(This was superb for AMC’s second present, “Breaking Bad,” which for all its fantastic critiques didn’t get an actual viewers till it began airing on Netflix earlier than its fourth season.)

Scores! Virtually unimportant! Instantly HBO and different non-ratings-reliant premium channels had competitors; the age of primary cable status tv had begun.

On its (usually moldering and putrefying) face, “The Walking Dead” didn’t match the status mannequin. True, HBO had efficiently dipped its toe within the swampy waters of the style with Alan Ball’s “True Blood,” however that was vampires, and vampires have at all times been, as Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels proved, a minimum of a little bit attractive.

Zombies, not a lot. Which, within the months main as much as the debut, struck many individuals as an issue. A zombie collection didn’t appear to be the suitable follow-up to “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Zombies are disgusting. A two-hour film? Advantageous. A complete collection? Who would watch that?

Far more individuals than ever watched “Mad Men” — and so they engaged with it simply as fanatically.

As a critic on the time, I had watched the convergence of tv and fandom — all these recapping blogs, together with our personal — with curiosity and anticipation. The monumental reputation of movies like “Iron Man” and “Twilight” proved the facility of a deeply linked viewers. Tv was thriving on the sudden, and a zombie epic was definitely sudden.

And fairly rattling good, proper out of the field. Sure there have been zombies, and wild-eyed encounters with survivors, however it shortly turned clear that the collection was simply extra world-building character examine than monster mash.

The field it got here out of was a formidable one too. On AMC, “Mad Men” was holding robust and “Breaking Bad” was gaining steam. HBO, which already had “Big Love” and “In Treatment,” debuted “Boardwalk Empire” (with a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese!) and “Treme.” Showtime, mid-“Dexter” and “Nurse Jackie,” introduced Laura Linney again to the small display with “The Big C”; FX, within the ultimate season of “Nip/Tuck,” debuted “Justified” and the short-lived however a lot beloved “Terriers.” “Pretty Little Liars” arrived on ABC Household and have become the primary present to actually leverage the facility of Twitter.

“Adventure Time,” “Parenthood,” “Louie” and “The Great British Bake Off” — a slew of groundbreaking tv debuted in 2010 together with a bunch of different nice, not so nice and actually unhealthy exhibits.

It was a giddy time for anybody writing about tv as a result of everybody was speaking about tv. On a regular basis. I bear in mind our late, nice meals critic Jonathan Gold sighing in my normal route: “It used to be restaurants, now it’s television.”

Not fairly true however nonetheless, exceptional.

Into all this rode Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and the long-lasting picture of a lone man on a horse shifting down the center of a freeway suffering from deserted automobiles towards a silent metropolis swarming with the lifeless — whereas hundreds of thousands cheered.

And gasped, yelped, laughed and wept. Zombies had been gross, however they, like vampires, had been additionally us — as had been the various array of survivors.

Most essential, “TWD” proved that on this courageous new world, the place nearly each tv platform together with the Historical past Channel was or quickly could be airing scripted content material, status didn’t need to imply boutique. Debuting with a respectable-for-cable common of 5.6 million, “The Walking Dead” at its top drew greater than 17 million viewers, an incredible quantity for the time even by broadcast requirements.

By comparability, “Downton Abbey,” which debuted just some months after “TWD,” peaked at simply above 13 million. “Downton” turned one of many few status exhibits that had each excessive scores and a number of Emmy nominations; for causes identified solely to themselves, the tv academy has ignored “The Walking Dead” all through its 11-season run.

Even with out the awards season press that proved important to so many exhibits and rising platforms, “The Walking Dead” shortly turned one of the crucial talked-about exhibits on tv. A lot in order that in 2011, AMC launched “Talking Dead,” a reside after-show collection during which host Chris Hardwick interviewed followers, actors and creators in regards to the episode that had simply aired.

Why let the eyeballs go to critics, bloggers and different platforms when you may maintain the dialog proper on AMC?

The reputation — and solely barely cynical genius — of the plan set a template for nearly each large present to create second-platform merchandise, be they after-shows, streaming bonus options or in-house podcasts.

However the world of tv has modified since 2010. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and different streaming providers have made it more and more troublesome to maintain observe of latest exhibits as they debut, by no means thoughts focus the cultural dialog and even an engaged fandom on just a few exhibits.

The means to observe what you need to watch if you need to watch it means you might be usually watching it alone, which makes speaking about tv way more troublesome than speaking about, say, eating places. Fandoms nonetheless exist, however they’re extra diffuse.

After 11 seasons, it’s not stunning that the viewers for “The Walking Dead” has dropped precipitously — this season’s common of two.2 million might need been OK for “Mad Men,” and even “Better Call Saul,” a critic’s darling that drew 1.8 million for its collection finale (2.7 when delayed viewing is factored in). However for “TWD” it means, sadly, ending with extra a whimper than a bang.

Although as beforehand talked about, it’s hardly an ending. With “Fear the Walking Dead” getting into its eighth season, “Tales of the Walking Dead” having debuted in August and a minimum of three extra spin-offs within the works, the present that many feared would tarnish AMC’s revolutionary legacy has come to outline it.

Franchise fever has come to the small display. We’ve got “Walking Dead” to thank for that too.