The Walking Dead producers' response to backlash over the season 7 premiere's violence shows that fan reactions can have a big impact on broadcast TV.
Fans were happy to see The Walking Dead return for season 7 on October 23, but that excitement soon turned to sadness and even outrage for some. Things got real fast, and two fan favorites met a grisly end, courtesy of the villain Negan (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille. The brutal murders appalled many viewers, to the point that their cries got producers’ attention.
Not only did the outrage make producers re-evaluate The Walking Dead‘s level of violence, they decided to dial it down in subsequent episodes. Gale Anne Hurd, an executive producer on the show, opened up about their response during a recent panel at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, confirming that they heard fans’ concerns.
“We were able to look at the feedback on the level of violence,” she said, according to Variety. “We did tone it down for episodes we were still filming for later on in the season.”
Since season 7 was still in the works when the premiere aired, they were able to make certain changes. Of course, the zombie-centric horror series doesn’t lend itself to the complete removal of violence, but that wasn’t their goal. The changes were simply intended to keep the violence from being gratuitous; there will likely always be scenes that will make some viewers cringe.
“This is not a show that is torture porn,” Hurd said.
What is particularly interesting in this situation is the way it shows the impact fans can have on a traditional linear broadcast TV show. For all that experts like to predict the end of broadcast TV, you just don’t get the same level of reactiveness with the binge model. Maybe linear series will never get hit by Lucille’s deathblow.