Are Zombies Running AMC Into the Ground?

While I was reading digital back issues of the comic book version of The Walking Dead over the Christmas break, AMC Networks (NASDAQ: AMCX  ) was announcing that it will part ways with Glen Mazzara after Season 3 concludes. Mazarra has served as showrunner of the zombie-themed hit since Season 2.

AMC described the parting as "mutual" in a statement, but there's no escaping the pattern: Mazzara is out much like Frank Darabont before him. The difference is that we don't know what's behind Mazzara's departure from The Walking Dead. Darabont was fired, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In a two-video analysis of what went down, Sons of Anarchy creator and showrunner Kurt Sutter argued that there's a certain skillset and experience required to navigate the complex world of television production, and in losing Mazzara, AMC is soiling its reputation as a home for talented TV writers with top-notch ideas.

On balance, I agree. And not just because I'm a fan of great creators such as Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan, Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, and Steven Moffat of Doctor Who and Sherlock in the U.K. Creative interference is an issue for investors, too.

Think of Walt Disney. Do you really think Marvel's The Avengers would have performed as well as it did if Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige had writer/director Joss Whedon on a short leash? Great creators make great properties, and great properties produce mountains of moola.

To be fair, The Walking Dead's creator, comic book writer Robert Kirkman, is still involved in the show. What's troubling is that Mazzara, like Darabont, couldn't work with the powers that be -- whether that's Kirkman or AMC's front office -- in producing a hit show. Something's not right.

And yet I'm nowhere near ready to abandon AMC as a stock idea. Not when history shows that, even in turmoil, the network has a way of engaging its audience in ways evocative of Time Warner's HBO and CBS subsidiary Showtime. Just look at The Walking Dead; the show set ratings records after Darabont left.

But that doesn't mean creative interference won't take a toll at some point. Stay tuned to this stock, Fool. There's a lot at stake in 2013.

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