AMC's The Walking Dead has enjoyed record-breaking ratings for its third season, so clearly, the show is doing something right. In fact, we think other underwatched-yet-high-quality shows can learn a few tips from the zombie apocalypse series...
Set Up Cliffhangers That Don't Pay Off
People tuned in to find out what was to become of the finally reunited Dixon brothers when the governor ordered them to fight to the death in the Season 3 fall finale, and didn't exactly shut off their TVs when Daryl and Merle immediately escaped within five minutes of "Splintered Groups." Cliffhangers keep people at the end of their seats, and while they're (ideally) traditionally followed with a satisfying and well-earned conclusion, resolving them immediately in exchange for an even less-logical twist works great for this show.
Bring Back Characters That Your Fans Despise
It's always a risk to kill off one of your leads — but when it's a grating character who slows down the action and is widely disliked, giving them the axe is just plain awesome for fans. The Walking Dead writers took this idea one step further when they brought Lori back to haunt her husband, as if viewers wouldn't already be able to piece together that Rick is losing his mind without having him see her as a shadowy creature in a gown. Definitely something to think about when your own show is getting just a bit too likable and smart.
Cast Wooden Child Actors
Forget kids who can actually act — bring in wooden youngsters who know how to stare silently, slam doors and wander off into the dangerous unknown. Apparently, viewers also seem to respond to signature hats, the more obnoxious, the better.
Don't Worry About Sticking to Mythology
Mythology is for nerds — and nerds don't account for good ratings the way that gore does... and everybody loves gore! Don't worry about always having consistency when it comes to your supernatural beings. Whether biters are slow, fast, loud, quiet, satisfied with animal meat or crave human flesh above all else, it doesn't really matter, so long as you're showing some blood.
Kill Problematic Characters Instead of Fixing Them
Sometimes good acting and unique personality quirks just aren't enough in keeping a character breathing if you don't have anything to do with them. Rather than finding a plotline for them that would deepen the show and potentially expand all of the characters into new and different territory, go ahead and write their death into an action sequence, and then try again with a new crop of strangers for people to emotionally invest in.
Fire Your Showrunner
And then fire the one after that. Nothing keeps your fans and your staff on their toes more, and controversy is sexy for ratings.
Guest contribution from: Television Without Pity