Frank Darabont's Abusive 'Walking Dead' Emails Spark Mixed Reaction Around Hollywood

The Walking Dead (AMC) -Director Frank Darabont -Photofest- H 2017

"You’ve turned [me] into a raging asshole," the onetime showrunner ranted in missives revealed in his AMC lawsuit, but industry reaction is not consistent across the board: "You can hear his heart bleeding for his vision as a director."

Were the explosive emails that showrunner Frank Darabont sent to associates on AMC’s The Walking Dead just another example of Hollywood excess from a brilliant talent? Or an unacceptable breach of standards of conduct?

A brief and unscientific survey of showrunners and executives suggests the industry’s reaction is mixed. While no one defends Darabont’s profanity-laced emails, some condemn them more strongly than others. Some are willing to cut Darabont slack because AMC had slashed the show’s budget by 25 percent and imposed other difficult conditions despite the fact that he had delivered the biggest hit the network is ever likely to have.

Most of the emails, released as AMC fights a $280 million lawsuit from Darabont and CAA, were written in the weeks before his July 2011 dismissal. Given the sensitivities, several TV veterans were unwilling to offer opinions on the record, though Sons of Anarchy creator and Darabont defender Kurt Sutter tweeted: “Abuse is indefensible, but having penned my share of deadly missives, @AMC_TV TMZing FD’s mail with no context hurts all parties.”

Perhaps the most extreme reaction comes from a showrunner with a major hit series in his credits. “It literally pains me to take the side of the great corporate overlord here,” he says in an email. “I am sure AMC did things wrong. ... This was their first time dealing with a massive, MASSIVE hit. Undoubtedly, they were in over their heads and mistakes were made. But nothing they did on the managerial side could possibly warrant Darabont’s behavior here. ... Unconscionable.”

Another showrunner believes Darabont, 58, was “desperately trying to protect his show,” but “he comes off like a major dick, and though we showrunners have all been frustrated at a camera operator or director or writer, it is ultimately unseemly and un-leader-like to talk that kind of shit — or at least to commit it to writing.”

Darabont seems to get more understanding from execs. “You can hear his heart bleeding for the words on the page and his vision as a director,” says a studio head. “When I read those emails, I wished half the showrunners I know were that deep into dailies and meanings of scenes.”

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.