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The Walking Dead is one of the more heavily merchandized pop culture entities out there, and the franchise's expansion will continue to drive AMC's creative content for years to come. Season 9 was a gamechanger across the board, though, with Angela Kang replacing Scott Gimple as showrunner, and Andrew Lincoln's Rick going into hibernation until AMC's standalone movie trilogy. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead's ratings also fell lower than ever in Season 9, even as the network announced plans to develop a third Dead TV show.
The former big boss at BBC America, Sarah Barnett took over as AMC Networks' President of Entertainment Networks back in November. Barnett has a lot to celebrate with the success of Killing Eve, and she doesn't sound glum and gloomy when it comes to The Walking Dead's headline-making ratings dips, either. In her words:
Our decline has really mirrored the declines across basic cable — we just had higher to fall from. The fact that we are still the No. 1 show by a margin of two to one is quite something. One of the things that I take such encouragement from is the fact that our ratings are pretty stabilized. We did see declines at the beginning of [Season 9], but through all of the back half of this season, we are seeing the kind of stability that we’ve never really seen in this property before. We believe that we’ve hit a core, and that if that core sits around the numbers it is, it will continue to be a complete phenomenon in cable TV in 2019.
Sarah Barnett nails home a point that many Walking Dead fans and critics don't fully appreciate whenever the topic of declining ratings comes up. During its peak, the AMC drama was regularly outperforming broadcast network hits, and its current numbers are still far above the numbers that most cable networks' biggest hits achieve. Being at the top of the ratings mountain for so long seemingly wouldn't allow much room for worry among AMC execs.
Speaking to Barnett's conditional element, however, The Walking Dead's weekly audience do almost definitely need to firm up on Sunday nights in order for everyone to move forward with a lack of worry. Arguably the most important episode of Season 9's back half, the deadly "Calm Before the Storm" not only earned the series' lowest demo ratings ever – a 1.5 with adults 18-49 – but it also had the smallest Live + Same Day viewership total, with 4.15 million people tuning in.
Delayed viewing stats boosted those comparatively dismal numbers, to be sure. Also, the wintery season finale did see an uptick in the numbers, as it ended some relationships, broadened others, and teased more mayhem on the way in Season 10. It remains to be seen whether that uptick was large enough to build a bigger audience for next fall, but the generally positive critical responses to Season 9 could work to bring wayward or absentee viewers back to see where that radio mystery is going.
The Potential Third Walking Dead Series
During her interview with Vulture, Sarah Barnett said she felt that AMC is working on all cylinders whenever the network takes big and unexpected swings, saying that it's not known for imitating others, or for imitating itself. An interesting comment to make during a conversation that also touched upon the network's goal to introduce a a third series set in the world of Robert Kirkman's comic creation. This would be the second spinoff or companion show, following the increasingly connected Fear the Walking Dead.
Here's what Barnett had to say about the potential next chapter in The Walking Dead universe, which she actually brought up herself without being coaxed.
The other thing that I’m really excited about is the opportunity around the Walking Dead universe and a potential third show, and the extraordinary advantage I have walking into this role with [what’s] still the biggest show on cable by some measure. Angela Kang has done a sterling job. . . . We’re feeling pretty good about the development of the [third show happening].
The last bit there was specifically in response to being asked about the chances for that third series happening in the next two years. As such, fans can likely be ready for a new group of survivors to get introduced in 2020 or 2021, depending on where AMC would want to put the show on its schedule.
Though Fear the Walking Dead has never tapped into the same massive viewership vein of its predecessor, it has also maintained a core fanbase even as it killed off one major character after another. Part of that show's strength lies in not using non-forested areas shown heavily in The Walking Dead, with Fear's locations ranging from L.A. to Mexico to east Texas.
A third Walking Dead series would likely need to have a super-strong hook from the outset, and unique locations could do a lot in that respect. (My vote is for a hard sci-fi spinoff focused on the astronauts in the International Space Station.) Having some big and recognizable names in the lead roles will also help, of course.
Sarah Barnett spoke more about the franchise's strengths in terms of being able to go anywhere with future ideas.
We do believe there is audience and untapped creative opportunity within this show, and in exploring some new worlds and new characters that are related to this incredibly rich, strong universe. The stability of the audience, the fact that it’s still such a powerhouse, and the fact that Angela has been able to reinvent, reenergize the show in this current season is something that we feel genuinely excited about.
Considering it just wrapped up the Whisperer-filled Season 9 so recently, the puzzle pieces are still being put in place for Season 10, which is reportedly set to go into its Georgia-set production in May. Here's hoping we hear a little more info about plans for Walking Dead 3.0. During the long wait for new episodes, fans can check out everything we know about the new season in our handy rundown.
Don't forget, though, that there is still undead fun to be found in the Summer TV schedule . Though Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 premiered immediately after the flagship series concluded its eighth season, it was announced that Season 5 will be debuting on AMC in June (not Laura or Naomi). This will be Austin Amelio's big return as Dwight, who will appear for the first time since Season 7's finale. Will Sherry's arrival happen soon after? And, more relevant to this story, what will Fear's ratings situation look like when it returns?