In a major shocker, four past and current producers of The Walking Dead, have filed suit against AMC over breach of contract and other similar complaints, which mostly come down to a claim that AMC is hiding the profits from the massive TV hit from the producers of the show. One of the producers who is involved in the lawsuit is Robert Kirkman, who happens to the creator of The Walking Dead comic book series.
Naturally, when you see a situation where the guy who created the comic book that a show is based on get into a lawsuit with the studio making the show, it makes you wonder what would be the worst case scenario when it comes to the show. In other words, could Robert Kirkman theoretically take The Walking Dead away from AMC if he is upset at the result of the lawsuit?
First, we’ll 100% up-front about this: We do not know the exact terms of Kirkman’s licensing agreement with AMC, but it is almost certainly a situation where, no, this lawsuit between Kirkman and AMC does not have anything to do with the future of The Walking Dead at AMC. The most likely scenario is that AMC pretty much flat-out owns the show. At SXSW back in 2015, Kirkman noted, “It’s kind of ridiculous that you can create a TV show without having an ownership stake in it.” This is because the licensing agreement between Kirkman and AMC is likely similar to the licensing agreements that Marvel has had with a number of different film studios over the years. Namely, that so long as they keep producing the show, the license will continue. They just have to keep paying Kirkman his royalties (of course, according to his lawsuit, they’re not even doing that correctly).
The fascinating wrinkle that is a particularly galling issue for Kirkman with The Walking Dead is that in most circumstances, you could at least see a situation where the show was actually produced by an outside studio and then that studio would negotiate with the network and could theoretically take the show to a different network if they didn’t like the deal that they were getting from AMC (like how American Idol is moving from Fox to ABC this season). However, The Walking Dead is produced by AMC’s own AMC Studios, so they have, in effect, a perpetual deal between the studio and the network, which makes sense, of course, as they are the same entity! Thus, so long as AMC wants to make The Walking Dead, they can continue to make The Walking Dead.
However, this does not mean that Kirkman is obliged to continue to give the network properties. Just recently, Kirkman and his Skybourne Entertainment signed a deal with Amazon Studios, giving the streaming giant a first look deal for any new material that Kirkman comes up with for television. That this was announced just days before the news of the lawsuit broke suggests that Kirkman was already planning on distancing himself from AMC, where he had a development deal in place going back a number of years now. Kirkman, though, made sure to point out on Twitter after the Amazon news hit that he will still be working on The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and Talking Dead and that this is just about future projects. Since he knew this lawsuit was coming, the fact that he assured people he was still going to be working on all of the shows certainly suggests that he thinks that they’re continuing.
Looking back on Kirkman’s involvement on the show in the past is a good guide to the future of Kirkman on the show. When the show debuted, Kirkman was more of a consultant for the series. However, his role grew, especially as the creator of the television show, Frank Darabont, began to clash with AMC over the series (Darabont was let go following the first season. He has since filed a lawsuit against AMC over contract issues). In other words, Kirkman could have been off of the show years ago and the show still would have continued without him. This makes it clear that whatever Kirkman’s licensing deal is with AMC, it doesn’t include any guarantee that he will work on the shows themselves and that the show could continue without his involvement.
Already, the network does not communicate with Kirkman as to his plans about the future of The Walking Dead comic book. He just writes the comic book and the showrunner of The Walking Dead, Scott Gimple (who happens to be a big fan of the comic book series), makes sure to plot the TV series around the events of the comic book series. That is not a rule or anything like that. The show does not have to follow the comic book, they just choose to do so out of respect for Kirkman’s grand vision of the overall arc of Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors.
It is important to note that people also sue studios and continue working with them all of the time. David Duchovny sued Fox over a similar situation with Fox and The X-Files (where Duchovny believed that they sold the syndication rights of the Fox-produced series to the Fox cable network, FX, at a discounted rate) and he continues to work with Fox on new X-Files projects. So there is nothing inherent in this lawsuit that suggests that Kirkman will stop working on any of the Walking Dead projects that he is currently working on with AMC (or his future Comic Book documentary series).
However, simply put, even if Kirkman splits from AMC, The Walking Dead will continue at AMC for as long as they want for it to continue.