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No Zombies in Kirkman’s ‘Outcast,’ But Plenty of Chills

Robert Kirkman had a bit of success adapting his The Walking Dead comic book series to television, and we’ll find out how another Kirkman comic project fares on TV. Horror drama Outcast, from the dark mind of the Walking Dead creator, debuts on Cinemax June 3.

Kirkman and Chris Black are executive producers, with Black, whose credits include Mad Men and Ugly Betty, the showrunner. Black said he was drawn to Outcast—which was actually developed for television before it was a comic book—as both a fan of The Walking Dead, and of Kirkman. “He’s one of the most creative, visionary guys out there today,” said Black.

Black concedes that it’s awful hard to make a show stand out in today’s scripted drama landscape. And while Cinemax, part of the HBO group, has had some critical successes with the likes of The Knick and Banshee, the network is not synonymous with must-watch original series. It’s perhaps better known for its “After Dark” block, which features series like The Girl’s Guide to Depravity and Topless Prophet.  

But Black says Cinemax is a good home for Outcast. “Being on premium cable outlet lets us push the boundaries in terms of storytelling,” he says, stressing that it’s not just about violence.

Kirkman said as much when the project was announced, citing the “unprecedented creative freedom” at Cinemax.

By seemingly all accounts, Outcast, about demonic possession, a wounded soul and the dark secrets within small towns, is scary as hell. Patrick Fugit, the guileless teen scribe from Almost Famous back in 2000, plays the emotionally scarred Kyle Barnes. Says TV Guide: “Preacher and The Exorcist have their work cut out for them competing with Cinemax's new show Outcast to be the best supernatural horror show on TV.”

Deadline’s review reads in part: “If you thought the blockbuster The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead was scary, the 10-episode first season of the already renewed Outcast makes the zombie apocalypse look like a slightly out-of-control tailgate party.”

Outcast is produced by Fox International Studios and is also executive produced by David Alpert, Sharon Tal Yguado and Sue Naegle. The pilot was directed by Adam Wingard.

Cinemax made the bold move of ordering a second season almost three months before the series premiere. “Going into the first season of Outcast, we knew that Robert Kirkman had once again created a world that would scare us to our core,” said Kary Antholis, Cinemax president, original programming, in a statement. “But what he, Chris Black and the rest of their team have delivered has exceeded even those high expectations. We believe our viewers will immediately be sucked into Outcast’s intense and creepy landscape, which is why we have chosen to pick up a second season.”

Some fans of The Walking Dead chafe when the series is described as a zombie show, instead seeing it as a tense drama about society in a tight spot, and how the people react under great duress. Walking Dead director Mike Satrazemis mentioned this as a reason why Walking Deaddoesn’t win a ton of awards. “I’m told it’s because it’s the horror genre, but to me it’s not horror,” he said at the aTVFest in Atlanta earlier this year.

Black says it’s similarly story first, not fright-fest, with Outcast. “Robert told the writers’ room, don’t think of this as a horror show,” he says. “Think of it as a small town drama that happens to have horrific elements.”  

The show won’t be doing Walking Dead numbers at any point in its lifetime, but Black says Outcast’s Kirkman-comics pedigree should send some viewers its way. “We hope that people have certain expectations from the creator of The Walking Dead,” he says. “If we get a fraction of the Walking Dead viewers, we’ll be happy.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.