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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 should be paid.

If to not the precise finale — actually, 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 well-liked tradition and trade so completely 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 sport. The channel often called American Film Classics was new to the sport too, having launched unique scripted content material simply three years earlier, but it surely had executed 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 positive evaluations didn’t get an actual viewers till it began airing on Netflix earlier than its fourth season.)

Rankings! 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 all the time been, as Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels proved, at the least a little bit attractive.

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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 seem to be the suitable follow-up to “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Zombies are disgusting. A two-hour film? Effective. A whole collection? Who would watch that?

Far more individuals than ever watched “Mad Men” — they usually 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 ability 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, but it surely shortly turned clear that the collection was simply extra world-building character research than monster mash.

The field it got here out of was a powerful 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 screen with “The Big C”; FX, within the remaining 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 really leverage the ability 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.

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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, outstanding.

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

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

Most vital, “TWD” proved that on this courageous new world, the place nearly each tv platform together with the Historical past Channel was or quickly can 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 peak drew greater than 17 million viewers, an amazing 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 rankings and a number of Emmy nominations; for causes recognized 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 very important to so many exhibits and rising platforms, “The Walking Dead” shortly turned one of the talked-about exhibits on tv. A lot in order that in 2011, AMC launched “Talking Dead,” a stay after-show collection wherein host Chris Hardwick interviewed followers, actors and creators in regards to the episode that had simply aired.

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Why let the eyeballs go to critics, bloggers and different platforms when you’ll be able to 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 recent exhibits as they debut, by no means thoughts focus the cultural dialog and even an engaged fandom on a couple of exhibits.

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

After 11 seasons, it’s not shocking 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 at the least 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 screen. Now we have “Walking Dead” to thank for that too.

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