Creative shake-ups and a new tone has AMC hoping for "a long future" with The Walking Dead despite a dip in ratings.
"Creatively, we are doing some different things in Season Nine," AMC programming president David Madden told IndieWire.
"Season Nine takes a big time jump. There are a lot of new situations that propel us into a very different tone. You look across the board at ratings, every show is dropping from where it used to be. But we're still looking at big numbers, so we're hoping for a long future with The Walking Dead."
The zombie drama ranked fourth in America's most-watched shows in the key 18—49 year old demographic for 2017—2018 with a 5.3 rating, coming in behind since-cancelled ABC sitcom Roseanne and NBC's Sunday Night Football (both 6.2) and NBC drama This Is Us (5.4).
Despite its dip — the former Andrew Lincoln-led series finished last year with an 8.0 for Season Eight, and a 9.6 for Season Seven — The Walking Dead is still the biggest show on cable: it's far ahead of the second-highest rated show on cable, FX's American Horror Story, which ranked 16th with a 2.6 rating.
Season Nine has since navigated the loss of Lincoln's Rick Grimes and rejuvenated itself with a six-year time jump that has brought with it new drama and mysteries — including the unfolding spat between the formerly tight Alexandria and Hilltop, and soon-to-come answers surrounding the matching 'X' scars spotted on Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) — as well as an influx of new characters and fan-favorite enemy group the Whisperers, who will emerge as the driving threat in the back half of Season Nine.
"None of us live in a vacuum so it would be dishonest of me to say that I've never heard any of that stuff," boss Angela Kang, who inherited duties from five-season showrunner Scott Gimple going into Season Nine, told Variety when asked about complaints surrounding the series and its subsequent ratings dip.
"I don't often go out seeking that stuff out there, because we really need to concentrate on making the best story possible. But I think a lot of times, we do our own internal reckonings, like 'To us, it feels like we've done a lot of this type of story. What's a new way to tell this? What are some of the things that we miss doing?' And a lot of times that lines up with things that fans or critics have been feeling. So we're not trying to chase something but we have a responsibility to ourselves and our viewers to not rest on our laurels."
AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan said previously the cabler intends to manage its quickly expanding Walking Dead Universe "over the next decade, plus," plans that include a Rick Grimes-led TV movie trilogy alongside ongoing spinoff Fear the Walking Dead and additional films, specials, series, and other digital content to be shepherded by chief content officer Gimple.