Fear the Walking Dead premieres on Sunday, and, for the last several months, Robert Kirkman and the producers of the show have been hammering home a common refrain: It’s “different” from the mothership series, The Walking Dead. The setting is different. The characters are different. The tone is different. Even the zombies are different. In fact, Fear will be filmed on digital, opposed to the 16mm cameras The Walking Dead uses.
But how different will Fear the Walking Dead really be? Robert Kirkman and company have also said that Fear the Walking Dead works, even if you haven’t watched The Walking Dead, but that the mythology of Fear will actually play into The Walking Dead, so it will behoove The Walking Dead faithful to also watch the spin-off.
You also have to wonder if Fear will ultimately water down the franchise. The setting, location, time period, and characters may be different, but it’s still the same concept… zombie apocalypse. I have no doubt that the first season — and maybe the second — will be fascinating, if only because we’ll be able to see what we haven’t seen from The Mothership, namely how a city comes to terms with the fact that they’re being overrun by zombies. There’s a great deal of story to be told in the initial outbreak, but, once that has been exhausted, Fear the Walking Dead becomes a show much more like The Walking Dead, only instead of hiding in the backwoods of Georgia, these characters will be seeking refuge on movie sets and swimming pools.
But it’s still the same premise, and many of the same problems will still arise, and there will still be zombies. Even more, perhaps, than in The Walking Dead because Los Angeles is a bigger city than Atlanta, and it’s surrounded by other large population centers.
The second season of Fear the Walking Dead will have 15 episodes, to go along with the 16 episodes of The Walking Dead, which means we’re looking at more than 30 weeks of zombie drama. That’s seven and a half months out of a year, and considerably more episodes than the average network drama order of 22 per year. How many zombie kills can we stomach before we burn out?
It very well could work. The Flash is working now, along with Arrow. A better comparison here may actually be Angel, the successful spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which took different characters from the same universe and spun off new stories. Parks and Recreation may be an okay comparison, too; it took the same faux documentary gimmick of The Office and used it in a completely different context. Same concept, different everything else.
In a way, though, Fear the Walking Dead feels more like a NCIS: Los Angeles or CSI: New York: Same concept, but different characters and location. Both of those procedural franchises have succeeded, but, in doing so, they did dilute the brand. Like with the Law and Order franchise, much of the audience found themselves choosing one over the other, so while Law & Order: SVU is still kicking along, Law & Order itself was cancelled years ago.
That’s the biggest danger I see with Fear the Walking Dead. As characters are killed off and introduced onto The Walking Dead, there may come a point where we’ve been with some of the characters from Fear as long as we have with many of the remaining characters on the original series. This is what happened with Law & Order, as their cast shuffled through new DAs and detectives, while SVU‘s cast remained more consistent. At that point — once both Walking Dead shows are running on concurrent timelines — the two may be virtually identical, save for the setting and characters. We may find ourselves more loyal to some of those characters over others, and it’s not out of the question to think that — if Carol and Daryl and Maggie and Glenn are killed off — that we swing our allegiances to Fear to the detriment of the original series.
But who knows? There’s every reason to believe that both shows can succeed simultaneously, and that our zombie fix will never be saturated, as long as the characters and storylines surrounding those zombies remain compelling. But it’s also a risk. There’s a risk of dilution. A risk of zombie burn-out. A risk of the spin-off overtaking the original. One has to wonder, then, why AMC feels compelled to mess with what works? They have the most watched show in all of television, and while the upside of this gambit is a second successful series, the downside is terrifying: Two series that cannibalize each other.
That would be a terrible irony.