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PRESS TOUR: Darabont No Longer 'Dead,' But 'Hell' Is Hot for AMC
July 28, 2011  | By Diane Werts


Frank Darabont is the walking dead. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The director who brought The Walking Dead to life for AMC has left the building, the network confirmed Thursday morning at press tour. Former The Shield writer and onetime Crash showrunner Glen Mazzara steps up to take his place, and AMC senior vice president of programming Joel Stillerman said the show is on track for its Oct. 16 Season 2 return.


Word had been heard that Darabont was feeling devoured by the machinery of TV production churning so much quicker than the feature film process to which he was accustomed. But Stillerman wouldn't discuss "the circumstances of it," and AMC released a statement saying only that they were "grateful to executive producer, writer and pilot director Frank Darabont whose contributions to the success of The Walking Dead are innumerable. We continue to discuss his ongoing role with the series."


Who'd have thought AMC would be such a hotbed of gossip and controversy? Stillerman also had to contend with audience/critical fury over the (non-)solution of the first-season murder in The Killing. "For everybody who was frustrated, we hear you," he said, while also contending "it was a bit of a risk, and it's one I'm glad we took." Not much of a mea culpa. He's sorry you feel sorry. "We never managed expectations the way they should have been managed," he said, immediately beginning to manage them overtly: "You will find out who killed Rosie Larsen in Season 2, definitively."

AMC's next original drama series, Hell on Wheels, was previewed at press tour, and it looks like more heaven for quality TV freaks already addicted to the likes of Dead, Mad Men and the current Breaking Bad. Arriving Nov. 6, it's a sort-of western that co-creator Joe Gayton calls "an eastern" because it's set during the post-Civil War construction of the transcontinental railroad.

"It's about dragging almost an urban ghetto across the prairie," he very aptly described of the show's setting -- an ever-moving tent town built, disassembled and rebuilt to house railroad workers and supplies as the tracks were stretching progressively west. The temporary town's "name" provides the series title, with its collection of workers, bosses, whites, blacks, native people, prostitutes and other assorted souls in the frontier maelstrom. "It's a hellish place in the middle of beauty," said executive producer John Shiban, referring to the American natural landscape that they are, of course, recreating in Alberta, Canada.


Preview clips of Hell on Wheels were staged and spoken much more naturalistically than David Milch's profane-poetry western Deadwood. It's just as gritty and dirty looking, though, and its stars said they were having a fantastic time riding horses and shooting guns. Anson Mount takes the lead as the worksite's latest overseer, a reformed former slave owner seeking revenge for his wife's ugly killing during the war, while rap star/actor Common plays a mixed race worker with whom he has an intriguing relationship. Colm Meaney plays an insatiably greedy railroad boss, and Ted Levine is nearly unrecognizable from Monk under major facial hair. (See series trailer below.)

By the way, it's not so weird for AMC to be doing a western series. Though the genre that ruled '50s and '60s TV might seem long extinct now, Stillerman says Robert Duvall's western miniseries Broken Trail remains the network's highest-rated program ever, five years after its premiere. (Watch Hell on Wheels trailer below.)

AMC also announced that Mad Men star Jon Hamm will make his directing debut with the 2012 Season 5 premiere that goes into production a week from Monday (Aug. 8).

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