AMC renews ‘The Walking Dead’ for season 3

In a move I would dub a no-brainer even if the show didn’t involve zombies, AMC has renewed “The Walking Dead” for a third season.

More than 7 million people watched the season 2 premiere, and nearly 5 million of those were in the adults 18-49 demographic, both enormous numbers for a scripted basic cable drama. The second episode averaged 6.7 million viewers for its first airing, with more than 4.5 million 18-49 viewers.

“The Walking Dead” was subject to lots of bad news in the off-season, as executive producer Frank Darabont either quit or was fired, depending on whom you believed, and stories ran about AMC cutting the budget on its biggest hit ever. (AMC executives insisted that the per-episode budget wouldn’t be that different, and that the decrease reflected the high cost of the series pilot, which Darabont wrote and directed.)

But good numbers make all the bad news go away pretty easily for AMC.

Darabont left midway through the season, so the two episodes that have aired so far (my reviews are here) were produced on his watch. AMC is splitting this season in two, with roughly half the episodes airing now and the other half starting in early 2012.

“We are thankful for everyone”s contribution in front of and behind the camera as we continue to make ‘The Walking Dead” a unique television experience,” AMC president Charlie Collier said in a statement. “And, we are so proud as it continues to set viewership records around the world.”