'Walking Dead' gets six-episode order

AMC series based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novels

"The Walking Dead" will become AMC's fourth original series.

The cable network on Monday gave a six-episode order to the apocalyptic zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novel series.

The project, written and directed by Frank Darabont and produced by Gale Anne Hurd, has been on the fast track since AMC acquired the rights to the books in August after a bidding war. It was ordered to pilot in January. That was followed by the early series pickup while the pilot still in the casting stages with one actor, "The Ghost Writer" co-star Jon Bernthal, locked in so far.

"Dead" will begin production in June in Atlanta and is set to premiere in October during Fearfest, AMC's annual marathon of thriller and horror films.

Joel Stillerman, AMC's senior vp programming, said the opportunity to debut "Dead" during Fearfest, which he called the "perfect platform" to do that, was key to the network's decision to go ahead with an early series order.

Additionally, "we felt like we had the appropriate road map in place in terms of the story," he said.

He praised Kirkman's series for "brilliantly capturing the social commentary and ongoing human drama of the zombie apocalypse. And it lets us kick a little zombie you-know-what from time to time."

"Dead" tells of the time after a zombie apocalypse and follows a group of survivors, led by police officer Rick Grimes, who travel in search of a secure home. Bernthal plays Grimes' partner and friend Shane.

"Dead" was one of two pilots AMC greenlighted in January. The chances of the other one, "The Killing," which also is in a casting stage, are not affected by the series pickup for "Dead" as "Killing" is being done on a different timetable, with shooting slated for summer. Stillerman said it is being eyed for a potential 2011 launch.

With the series order for "Dead," AMC will run four different original series in a single calendar year in 2010, with flagship "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad"; "Rubicon," which starts production this week; and "Dead."

"We're delivering on the promise we made several years ago when we entered the original series arena," AMC president Charlie Collier said.

Kirkman Darabont, Hurd and David Alpert from Circle of Confusion executive produce "Dead," along with Charles Eglee ("Dexter").