TCA 2011: AMC’s ‘Hell on Wheels’ and HBO’s ‘Deadwood’


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Hell on Wheels and Deadwood were actual places that sprang up on the prairies in the nation’s post-Civil War drive westward -- and now they both can claim to be the inspiration for modern-day television series.

AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” which launches on the basic cable network in November, is set in the roaming tent city that served as home and supply center (complete with churches and brothels) to the workers on the transcontinental railroad. The new show begins by focusing on a Confederate war veteran (Anson Mount) who heads out West to avenge the death of his wife and lands a job overseeing laborers on the railroad.


The time period, location and themes of the new show have drawn comparisons to HBO’s critically acclaimed “Deadwood,” which ran for three seasons and was celebrated for its highly stylized, coarse language and unblinking view of life in the Old West. Although the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota gave rise to the boomtown of Deadwood, it is the transcontinental railroad -- and the race to build it -- that animates the moving community of Hell on Wheels.

“I think we wanted to find our own way and separate ourselves from ‘Deadwood,’ said “Hell on Wheels” show runner Joe Gayton during a morning panel at the TV summer media tour in Beverly Hills, but “if there are favorable comparisons to ‘Deadwood,’ I’ll take them.”


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-- Martin Miller