'Walking Dead' TV movie plan is foolhardy, but could it be foolish?

Posted11/9/2018 6:00 AM
  • Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) may have been written off "The Walking Dead," but he will live on in three TV movies.

    Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) may have been written off "The Walking Dead," but he will live on in three TV movies. Courtesy of AMC

Shortly after the episode hyped as Rick Grimes' final appearance on "The Walking Dead" ended last Sunday night, Variety broke some news about AMC's iconic zombie-apocalypse series: Grimes, the central character played by Andrew Lincoln, will live on in three TV movies written by former showrunner Scott Gimple, who now apparently has the unique title of "The Walking Dead" television universe chief content officer.

As someone who stopped watching regularly after the first episode of the second season back in 2011, perhaps I should refrain from commenting on what this news means to the fans of a show that so clearly hates them. (Hmm, perhaps I didn't quite refrain.) What it means to the TV business as a whole is unclear at this early stage, though it certainly seems like a strange move for a show with a dwindling audience -- deadline.com reported the Oct. 21 episode drew the lowest key-demographic ratings in the show's history.

"The Walking Dead" and its spinoff, "Fear the Walking Dead," will continue alongside these TV movies, which begin production next year. Similar situations happened in 1998 and 1999, when both "The X-Files: Fight the Future" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" were released in theaters. (Amazingly, "South Park" is still airing new episodes almost 20 years later, and Fox resurrected "The X-Files" for two short seasons beginning in 2016.) The big difference between these two situations: "The X-Files" and "South Park" were at the peaks of their popularity when their films were produced. The Season 5 premiere of "X-Files" was watched by more than 27 million viewers.

Of course, the raw numbers don't mean what they used to -- "The Big Bang Theory," Nielsen's top scripted show the week of Oct. 22, was seen by 7.9 million people. Back in 1997, the 27 million who watched Mulder and Scully couldn't match the 31.6 million who watched that week's "Seinfeld" in which Kramer rebuilt the set of "The Merv Griffin Show" in his living room. And the TV networks didn't have to compete with Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

So while Gimple's foolhardy move may seem, at first glance, to be foolish, it just might be visionary. Maybe goosing the format reinvigorates the franchise. Maybe AMC officials like what they see and decide to test the waters of theatrical release. Maybe, in a time of shorter seasons and streaming platforms, this becomes a new standard. The definition of "television" continues to expand, and "The Walking Dead" has been at the forefront by pushing the envelope with its violence, making a megahit out of a talk show about itself ("The Talking Dead"), and now creating a mini-film franchise for its star.

I just wish this was happening to a show I actually wanted to watch -- and the ratings suggest a lot of people agree with me.

Upcoming screenings

The After Hours Film Society returns at 7:30 Monday, Nov. 12, to the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Avenue, Downers Grove, to present "Leave No Trace," the latest film from "Winter's Bone" director Debra Granik. (That's the rural crime flick that introduced moviegoers to Jennifer Lawrence back in 2010.) Ben Foster ("Hell or High Water") stars as an Iraq War veteran with PTSD who makes a surreptitious home for himself and his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) in the middle of an Oregon nature preserve. A dramatic chain reaction begins when a jogger discovers their existence.

Members of the After Hours Film Society can purchase tickets at classiccinemas.com or the box office for $6; nonmembers pay $10. Discussion follows the 2018 release, which can also be purchased or rented across most major digital platforms.

The very next night, WGN Radio's Nick Digilio will screen the Burt Reynolds classic "The Longest Yard" (NOT the Adam Sandler remake) at 7 p.m. at the AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont. Reynolds leads a cast that includes Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Bernadette Peters and Green Bay Packers legend Ray Nitschke in the beloved comedy about prisoners challenging their guards to a game of football.

Dinner and drinks precede the movie at 6:30 p.m., and Digilio will lead discussion afterward. Tickets are available at amctheatres.com for $9.99.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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