As AMC's "Fearfest" approaches its October debut, the network is looking to incite some serious zombie euphoria with "The Walking Dead," a series helmed by Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont.
Based on Robert Kirkman's acclaimed zombie-apocalypse comic, "The Walking Dead" will premiere in 120 countries during AMC's 14th annual horror event, and will feature six episodes for Season 1.
The series centers on police officer Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln ("Love, Actually," "Teachers"), as he leads his family and a group of survivors across a devastated country in search of a safe home.
Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile"), who is executive producing, and is writing and directing the pilot, was at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif., to promote the series. He was joined by members of the cast, Kirkman, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd ("Aliens," "Terminator") and Joel Stillerman, senior vice president of programming for AMC.
Like Kirkman's comic, "The Walking Dead" series is structured to not only be an exciting zombie tale, but to be a serious study of the human condition, according to Darabont.
"It was the venue to tell a zombie story that I had been looking for," Darabont said. "Robert had done something that was going to be an expanded saga following a group of people -- very character driven stuff -- which is the stuff I dig the most. It's sort of right up my alley.
"I love the idea of doing something a little bolder for television that kind of reaches back into the genre that I love. But it's a very character based thing that Robert did that really turned me on."
Despite his comic's success and critical acclaim, however, Kirkman never anticipated it would receive a live-action adaption.
"I didn't really want to do a movie for obvious reasons," Kirkman explained. "You can't do a zombie movie that never ends as a movie, because that does not make any sense.
"It always seemed like a tough sell -- zombies on TV. To see it happen, and to see it happen in such a great way with so many excellent people involved ... and to see AMC really get behind it and commit to making a zombie show, and doing everything right and pushing the limits of what they are going to be showing ... it's remarkable."
Although the story of Kirkman's comic will be closely followed, audiences can expect a few surprises along the way, Darabont said.
"I think the template, the path, ... left by Mr. Kirkman are extremely good ones," Darabont explained. "But I have also said -- and Robert has been great about this, and has in fact encouraged it -- to take every interesting detour we feel like taking. As long as in the long term we are still following what Robert has done, I don't see why we shouldn't bring every other good idea to the table.
"What that's leading to is a lot of really cool ideas that will surprise, I think, the really hardcore fans of the comic who really know like every page of this thing. There is a lot of stuff that is going to happen that they are not going to see coming, which I think is really cool. … If they have patience we'll eventually catch up with what Robert has been doing."
Kirkman is particularly pleased with the new story lines that are developing under Darabont's lead.
"I want the comic and the show to exist separately and be just as compelling and have as many surprises as possible," Kirkman said. "Thankfully Frank and all the people in the writer's room are doing such a great job taking all the good parts of the comic and expanding them and making them better. I think you guys are really going to be blown away. I really do."
One fan of Kirkman's tale that was blown away by the possibility of the series was AMC itself. Stillerman saw the story of "The Walking Dead" as a perfect fit to the network.
"The world that Robert has created, and the way he kinda paid such tremendous service to the genre, and to the human drama ... that makes a quintessential AMC show," Stillerman explained. "It's just really an incredibly exciting opportunity.
"I'll tell you about a good day as a network executive, it's when a piece of material like this walks into your office and Frank Darbount and Gale Ann Hurd are attached to it, and they tell you they are going to staff it up with all the people that have made such wonderful movies."
One recent key staff addition to the series is composer Bear McCreary, who scored the critically acclaimed soundtrack to Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica."
"I've been wanting to work with Bear ever since I heard the first work he did on 'Battlestar,'" Darabont said. "The one thing that we are all desperate to not do is the obvious. … And that's is why we asked Bear to join us. Because he does something very unique, and does not just clobber the audience with the thing that you expect."
In addition to Lincoln, "The Walking Dead" stars Emma Bell ("Frozen") as Amy, Jon Bernthal ("The Pacific," "The Ghost Writer") as Shane, Steven Yeun as Glenn, Sarah Wayne Callies ("Prison Break") as Rick's wife Lori, Chandler Riggs ("Get Low") as Carl, Jeffrey DeMunn ("The Green Mile") as Dale and Laurie Holden ("Shield") as his girlfriend Andrea.