The Walking Dexit Continues, How Long Before the Network Executioner Claims The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead?

By | April 11, 2019

AMC’s The Walking Dead has wrapped up its ninth season with the lowest ratings the show has seen since it debuted back in 2010. And this past year, Fear the Walking Dead also slipped to series lows as interest in that spin-off continues to wane. AMC just announced that a third series is on the way, but at this point the TWD franchise appears to be suffering from diminishing returns, and you have to wonder how much longer the dead will keep walking on television.

In its ninth season, The Walking Dead set series low levels for its season premiere and finale episodes as well as its mid-season cliffhanger. It also dropped to a series low for a regular season episode posting a 1.5 score based on same day viewing for the 18-49 demographic with the fourteenth episode of its last season (you can see the nine-season ratings history below, click on it for a better view). That’s a far cry from the show’s glory days when it was out-pacing ever other scripted show on television by double the ratings or more. But it is hard for any series to sustain that sort of viewership over an extended run, and TWD has definitely been guilty of some viewer-trolling that has likely hastened the audience attrition over the past few years.

Still TWD remains one of the top-rated scripted shows on television and certainly continues to prove profitable for AMC. It may not be making money hand-over-fist like it was during its glory years, but the network cannot complain too much about the ratings in the current Peak TV crunch environment. How much longer can this one stick around, though, especially considering the fact that the costs for its extensive cast, sets, and zombie make-up must surely be high?

One thing I will say for certainty, this show will not be truncated due to low ratings. Even though the numbers continue to drop (and that will likely carry into the coming season), this show is already raking in a ton of money for AMC in syndication and on the streaming services. So it is in the network’s interest to give the show a satisfying conclusion rather than cancelling it because the ratings have dropped too low. It definitely will not end with its tenth season and my guess is that the network and producers are looking for this one to go for about twelve seasons total. It could go longer because there is plenty of source material from the comics to continue the story, or it could end with its eleventh season if the numbers take a free fall next year. But twelve seasons (which will come to around 180 episodes) sound like a nice round number for this one.

As for Fear the Walking Dead, that one likely only has a season or two left before it walks off. It averaged only a 0.78 rating based on same day viewing for the demo last season and has been trending down since it debuted in 2015 (see the chart below, click for a better view). It when went through an overhaul in its fourth season (it debuts on June 2nd) and will be entering its fifth year with only two original characters returning, while Lennie James’ Morgan has shifted over from TWD and Austin Amelio’s Dwight will be jumping onboard.

It sure seems like it would make sense for AMC to keep this one around through a sixth season to get it to an episode count that makes it more attractive to the syndication market. But that does not appear to be as much of a driving force for the cable networks as it is for the broadcast nets. So it’s possible that FtWD could end with its fifth season if the ratings continue to slump. I don’t believe that AMC will leave the fans hanging, though, and I’m betting they have told the writers approach the show’s fifth season as if it could be the last. But in any case, I’m guessing that six years is the max for this one unless it experiences a major ratings turnaround starting this Summer.

As for the new series (still untitled), we don’t know yet if it can revive viewership interest in the franchise. Following is the description the network has given for the show:

The third series in a franchise . . . will feature two young female protagonists and focus on the first generation to come-of-age in the apocalypse as we know it. Some will become heroes. Some will become villains. In the end, all of them will be changed forever, grown-up and cemented in their identities, both good and bad.

Introducing a new generation opens up some story possibilities and could deliver a fresh take on the zombie-pocalypse theme. But I have a hard time believing there are enough viewers to go around for three concurrently running TWD shows, especially considering the current rate of attrition. That’s partially why I believe that FtWD’s days are numbers and AMC sees this new show as its logical replacement.

But even as TWD entries start to roll off the schedule, that does not spell the end of the franchise. AMC has indicated that they plan to continue with TWD in some form or another for many more years, and we already know that at least three movies are planned that will continue the story of Rick Grimes. If the main series ends around its twelfth season, I would expect to some one-off movies to follow that will continue the story or check-in on fan-favorite characters. So expect The Walking Dead to maintain a presence on television for the foreseeable future. But the two current shows could be wrapping up within the next few years (possibly as early as this year for FtWD) even as other incarnations arrive to carry on the torch.

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