Hell on Wheels (TV series)

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Hell on Wheels
Hell on Wheels Title Card.jpg
Genre
Created by
Developed by Endemol USA
Starring
Theme music composer Gustavo Santaolalla
Composer(s) Kevin Kiner
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 40 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Paul Kurta
  • Chad Oakes
  • Mike Frislev
  • (associate producers)
  • Jordan Feiner
  • Keri Young
Editor(s) Skip McDonald
Location(s) Near Calgary, Alberta, Canada[1]
Cinematography
Running time 43 minutes
Production company(s)
Broadcast
Original channel AMC
Picture format 480i (NTSC)
1080i (HDTV)
1080p (Blu-ray)
Audio format Dolby Digital 5.1 (HDTV)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Blu-ray)
Original run November 6, 2011  – present
External links
Website
Production website

Hell on Wheels is an American Western television series about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States. The series, which features Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott, follows the Union Pacific Railroad and its surveyors, laborers, prostitutes, mercenaries, and others who lived, worked and died in the mobile encampment called "Hell on Wheels" that followed the railhead west across the Great Plains. In particular, the story focuses on Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier (played by Anson Mount) who, while working as foreman and chief engineer on the railroad, initially attempts to track down the Union soldiers who murdered his wife and young son during the American Civil War.

The series, which was created and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton, is broadcast in the United States and Canada on the cable channel AMC and premiered on November 6, 2011.[2] It was developed by Endemol USA, under the stewardship of senior vice-president of scripted programming Jeremy Gold, and is produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures. In 2012, AMC announced creators Joe and Tony Gayton were no longer involved in the day-to-day production of the series.[3] On December 12, 2012, AMC announced that John Wirth, a writer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, would take over as showrunner for the third season.

Seasons one (2011–12) and two (2012) covered 1866, Seasons three (2013) and four (2014) opened in 1867. On November 14, 2013, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a fourth season consisting of 13 episodes, which began on August 2, 2014.[4][5]

Cast[edit]

Main cast[edit]

  • Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who is determined to avenge the deaths of his son and his wife, Mary.
  • Colm Meaney as Thomas "Doc" Durant, a businessman and investor in the First Transcontinental Railroad, where he hopes to make his fortune.
  • Common as Elam Ferguson, a recently freed slave who is trying to find his place in the world. He works as security and general assistant to Bohannon.
  • Dominique McElligott as Lily Bell, a recent widow; her husband was a surveyor working on the transcontinental rail project.
  • Tom Noonan as Reverend Nathaniel Cole, a minister who formerly participated in Bleeding Kansas prior to the Civil War; he is sick of the slaughter and wants to help the whites and Indians avoid another war.
  • Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon, a Cheyenne who must choose between the new world and the traditions of his ancestors.
  • Ben Esler as Seán McGinnes, an ambitious young Irishman looking to make his fortune in the West.
  • Phil Burke as Mickey McGinnes, Sean's brother, who has travelled with Seán to America.
  • Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gundersen, Durant's head of security. He is known as "the Swede", even though he is Norwegian.
  • Robin McLeavy as Eva, a woman with a prominent chin tattoo given to her while in the captivity of Indians. She initially supports herself by working in the Hell on Wheels brothel.
  • Kasha Kropinski as Ruth, Reverend Cole's abandoned daughter and the heir to his church.
  • Dohn Norwood as Psalms Jackson, a freed former slave and criminal, whose prison sentence has been purchased by the railroad.
  • Jennifer Ferrin as Louise Ellison, a smart, witty, and flirtatious journalist hired by the New York Sun to cover the "story of the century".
  • Chelah Horsdal as Maggie Palmer.
  • MacKenzie Porter as Naomi Hatch, Aaron Hatch's daughter and Cullen's second wife.
  • Tayden Marks as Ezra Dutson, only survivor of the Swede's massacre.
  • Jake Weber as John Allen Campbell, Wyoming's first governor.
Actor Character Seasons
1 2 3 4
Anson Mount Cullen Bohannon Main
Common Elam Ferguson Main Recurring
Dominique McElligott Lily Bell Main
Colm Meaney Thomas "Doc" Durant Main
Ben Esler Seán McGinnes Main
Phil Burke Mickey McGinnes Main
Eddie Spears Joseph Black Moon Main
Tom Noonan Reverend Nathaniel Cole Main
Christopher Heyerdahl Thor Gundersen "The Swede" Recurring Main
Robin McLeavy Eva Toole (née Oates) Recurring Main
Kasha Kropinski Ruth Recurring Main
Dohn Norwood Psalms Jackson Recurring Main
Jennifer Ferrin Louise Ellison Main
Chelah Horsdal Maggie Palmer Recurring Main
MacKenzie Porter Naomi Hatch Recurring* Main
Tayden Marks Ezra Dutson Recurring Main
Jake Weber John Campbell Main

* Siobhan Williams portrayed Naomi Hatch in the third season.

Recurring cast[edit]

  • April Telek as Nell, the madam of the Hell on Wheels brothel.
  • Duncan Ollerenshaw as Gregory Toole, an Irish labourer on the railroad; antagonist to Elam.
  • James D. Hopkins as Senator Jordan Crane, both ally and antagonist to Durant.
  • Wes Studi as Chief Many Horses, Joseph's father.
  • Gerald Auger as Pawnee Killer, Chief Many Horses' son and Joseph's brother.
  • Virginia Madsen as Mrs. Hannah Durant, Thomas' headstrong wife.
  • Grainger Hines as Doc Whitehead, a southerner and father figure to Cullen, who knew him before the war.
  • Ryan Robbins as Hawkins, leader of a gang of ex-Confederate train robbers.
  • Serge Houde as Congressman Oakes Ames.
  • Damian O'Hare as Declan Toole, Gregory's brother.
Actor Character Seasons
1 2 3
April Telek Nell Recurring
Duncan Ollerenshaw Gregory Toole Recurring
James D. Hopkins Senator Jordan Crane Recurring
Wes Studi Chief Many Horses Recurring
Gerald Auger Pawnee Killer Recurring
Virginia Madsen Hannah Durant Recurring
Grainger Hines Doc Whitehead Recurring Guest
Ryan Robbins Hawkins Recurring
Serge Houde Congressman Oakes Ames Recurring
Damian O'Hare Declan Toole Recurring
Sean Hoy Joseph Dutson Recurring

Series overview[edit]

Season one (2011–2012)[edit]

In 1865, former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) journeys to the Union Pacific Railroad's westward construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad to seek work and vengeance on the Union soldiers who killed his wife and son. Cullen gets hired by the railroad and supervises an all-black "cut crew", including Elam (Common), whose job is to prepare the terrain for track laying. Through conversation with the railroad foreman, Daniel Johnson (Ted Levine), Cullen learns more about his wife's death. But tragedy strikes before the name of her killer is revealed to him. Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) begins his "mad, noble quest" to expand his Union Pacific Railroad westward in order to complete the transcontinental railroad. Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) accompanies her ailing husband, Robert (Robert Moloney), as he surveys the landscape for the Union Pacific. Robert is killed by the Cheyenne natives, and Lily must cope with being a widow on foreign soil. Reverend Nathaniel Cole (Tom Noonan) baptizes Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears), a Cheyenne, then takes him under his tutelage in the church. Season one ends with Bohannon killing a man he believes was responsible for the rape and murder of his wife only to discover that man was not there at the time, thus killing the wrong man.

Season two (2012)[edit]

Bohannon tries to find himself again while continuing to drive the westward expansion of the Union Pacific Railroad, under Durant's leadership. Bohannon takes up with a gang of train robbers, but is turned over to the Union Army and imprisoned. Durant manages to get him pardoned. The railroad construction enters the Sioux territory, where the Swede and a misguided Reverend Cole assist the natives in attacking the railroad. Lily Bell seeks to gain control of the railroad from Durant and mails his accounting ledgers to the government. Army officers arrive to find the town has been attacked by the Sioux. Bohannon helps protect the town, while the Swede strangles Lily to death.

Season three (2013)[edit]

Bohannon abandons seeking revenge for the deaths in his family in order to battle Durant for control of the Union Pacific Railroad. Eva gives birth to a baby that was sired during her marriage to Gregory Toole. Elam proposes marriage to her, even though her post-partum depression weighs heavily on her. The Swede takes up with a Mormon family on their way to Fort Smith and later reveals his true nature.

Season four (2014)[edit]

Conflict arises between the government and businesses, ranchers, homesteaders and the railroad, as all of those interests compete with one another for control of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the most important railroad hub in 1867. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad continues its expansion westward, and Bohannon adjusts to being a husband and new father.

Episodes[edit]

Season Episodes Originally aired DVD and Blu-ray release dates
Season premiere Season finale Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
1 10 November 6, 2011 (2011-11-06) January 15, 2012 (2012-01-15) May 15, 2012 (2012-05-15)[6] July 27, 2012 (2012-07-27)[7] June 20, 2012 (2012-06-20)[8]
2 10 August 12, 2012 (2012-08-12) October 7, 2012 (2012-10-07) July 16, 2013 (2013-07-16)[9] June 10, 2013 (2013-06-10)[10] March 20, 2013 (2013-03-20)[11]
3 10 August 10, 2013 (2013-08-10) October 5, 2013 (2013-10-05) July 15, 2014 (2014-07-15)[12] August 18, 2014 (2014-08-18)[13] June 25, 2014 (2014-06-25)[14]
4 13[15] August 2, 2014 (2014-08-02) November 22, 2014 (2014-11-22)[15] TBA TBA TBA


Production[edit]

Development history[edit]

On November 8, 2011, co-creator Joe Gayton spoke of the series' origins. "We [Tony and I] started talking and remembered this story, American Experience, which was this really great documentary, and I thought, 'God, that’s great. I just learned a bunch of stuff I had never learned before.' You just have this cursory information that the Chinese and the Irish built the railroad, but it got in underneath all the dirt and stuff that went on, with the financing of it, and the greed and corruption. And then, I heard about this Hell on Wheels place and I went, 'What a great setting for a western.' So, we pitched that to Jeremy Gold [at Endemol] and ended up taking it to AMC, and they loved it," he said.[16]

Hell on Wheels was created by Joe and Tony Gayton in late 2008, and Endemol USA's scripted television division, headed by senior vice president of original programming Jeremy Gold, came on board to develop the series for AMC.[17] On May 18, 2010, AMC placed a pilot order for Hell on Wheels with Endemol USA.[18] Joe and Tony Gayton wrote the pilot, David Von Ancken was attached to the project as director, with Jeremy Gold, Joe Gayton and Tony Gayton serving as executive producers. On July 6, 2010, Endemol USA announced that they had entered into a partnership with Entertainment One, who would serve as the production studio on the project.[19] Part of the deal between the two companies included provisions of international distribution, with Endemol retaining rights to the series across Europe, while Entertainment One acquired rights to Hell on Wheels in all remaining territories.[19] As a result of the deal, Entertainment One also holds global rights for DVD and Blu-ray sales, as well as video-on-demand and other digital distribution services.[19] The Canadian production company Nomadic Pictures was brought onto the project to serve as co-producers alongside Entertainment One.[20] The pilot was delivered to AMC executives in November 2010.[20] On November 12, 2010 it was reported by Deadline that the executives at AMC were impressed with the pilot, and, coupled with the fact that the network had just cancelled their drama series, Rubicon, were likely to order Hell on Wheels to series.[20]

On December 15, 2010, AMC green-lighted the series with an order of 10 episodes.[21][22][23] Along with the series pickup, AMC announced that Nomadic Pictures would again co-produce the series, as they had done for the pilot, with Mike Frislev and Chad Oakes joining the series as producers while John Shiban and David Von Ancken joined the series as executive producers; Von Ancken had previously served as director on the pilot.[23][24] The network also announced that John Morayniss and Michael Rosenberg would oversee production for Entertainment One, while Joel Stillerman and Susie Fitzgerald would oversee production for AMC.[23][24] On July 28, 2011, AMC announced that Hell on Wheels would premiere on November 6, 2011.[2] The series is produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures.

On October 29, 2012, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a third season,[25] however it was also announced that the series creators and showrunners, Joe and Tony Gayton, "will no longer be involved day-to-day on the show" and series producer/writer/director John Shiban would take over.[3] Following the departure of John Shiban, the renewal was put on hold until a replacement could be found.[26] On December 12, 2012, AMC announced that John Wirth, a writer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, will be the new showrunner for the show's third season.[27]

Casting[edit]

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is the central character of the series.

Casting announcements began in July 2010, with Common first to be cast. Common portrays Elam Ferguson, "an emancipated slave who is working to achieve true freedom in a world entrenched in prejudice".[2][28] Next to join the series were Anson Mount and Dominique McElligott, with Mount playing Cullen Bohannon, "a former soldier hell bent on avenging his wife’s death", and McElligott playing Lily Bell, "a newly widowed woman trying to survive in a man’s world".[2][29] Colm Meaney was next to be cast as Thomas "Doc" Durant, a "greedy entrepreneur taking full advantage of the changing times".[2][30] Ben Esler, Phil Burke and Eddie Spears were the last actors to be cast, with Esler playing Seán McGinnes and Burke playing Mickey McGinnes, "two young brothers looking to find their fortune in the new West". Spears was cast as Joseph Black Moon, "a Native American man torn between his culture and the changing world around him".[2] It was later announced that Jesse Lipscombe, Gerald Auger, Robert Moloney and Ted Levine had joined the series as recurring guest stars.[31][32]

Jennifer Ferrin joined the cast as a series regular for season three, playing a New York Sun journalist covering the construction of the railroad.[33] AMC announced that Dohn Norwood (Psalms) became a series regular for season three.[34]

Jake Weber joined the fourth season's cast. He was initially to portray a carpetbagger seeking to profit from the frontier,[35] but his role changed to John Allen Campbell, first governor of Wyoming. MacKenzie Porter has also been cast. She will replace Siobhan Williams in the role of Naomi, Bohannon's Mormon bride.[36]

Cast quotes[edit]

"There’s a lot of just being in the right place at the right time, as well as being in the right place and time in my life. I couldn’t have played this role 10 years ago—I needed a little bit of life behind me. I’d been wanting to do a western for years but never had the opportunity to do that. So I immediately responded to this project, and I especially responded to the fact that the lead was a southern character who’s not stereotyped and not villainized."[37]Anson Mount
"I usually read a script from an audience perspective first, and then look more closely at the character. With this, it was a complete page-turner. It was fantastically entertaining. And then, specifically looking at the character that they wanted me to play, it really got my juices going. You don’t see writing like this, nowadays. The vocabulary he uses is just fantastic. There was no hesitation."[38]Colm Meaney

Common spoke about the challenges of playing a former slave: "Very challenging. And that's why I took it on. It's a lot of responsibility because what black people went through in slavery, within that system of slavery, was really treacherous. And for me, I felt like I owed it to the people that lived during that time to bring something truthful to the character. And even just revisiting some of the experiences of it, [there] was just a lot of emotion and a lot of pain. At the same time, a lot of strength came from it. What I enjoy most about the character is the fact that he was written so strong, not as just a person that was oppressed and kept his head down."[39]

Canadian actor Christopher Heyerdahl talks about how he got his role and the rarity of a Scandinavian character: "Well, luck and providence, I suppose. They say, 'What’s luck? Preparation and opportunity.' So, I guess the opportunity came, in the form of an audition. I put myself on tape, and they responded to it. I went in and did a call-back audition, and they felt that we were on the same track. My idea of who The Swede was, was the same as theirs, and vice versa. This kind of character is very rare, with the fact that it fit so well with my background and my understanding of a Norwegian man. It all just fell into place. I still get a little choked up thinking about how often a character like this comes along. For the viewer, it’s quite interesting. It’s not a character that we see very often, and certainly not in this form. As an actor, it seemed to be tailor-made for me. It’s quite wonderful."[40]

Irish-born Dominique McElligott never expected to be cast in a period American role: "I was hanging out in London, having drinks with friends who are all flight attendants, and they said that they would get me over to America for free, and I could stay and do some meetings and auditions. Hell on Wheels was the first one. I arrived on the 5th of July, and the Hell on Wheels audition was on the 6th or the 7th. It was crazy! They didn’t know me, at all. Obviously, I loved the pilot and I loved the character, but I didn’t anticipate ever actually getting the chance to do it. When you go up for these brilliant parts, you just figure, 'Okay, well, they’re going to pick some American actress, and that will be that.' But, the opportunity was there, and I really enjoyed the audition. It was fun."[41]

Exterior filming[edit]

Filming of the first season took place in Calgary, as well as areas in central and southern Alberta, Canada.[42] The T'suu T'ina Native Indian Reservation, an Indian reserve in southern Alberta, was the location for most of the exteriors.[43]

Exterior filming of the second season was near the Bow River in Calgary. Interior filming was in a building near the city's airport. Series producers expected the filming of the season's ten episodes to take about 80 days.[1]

Filming of the third season was suspended part way through the sixth episode when the location was included in the mandatory evacuation area due to the flooding in southern Alberta.[44] Originally, producers had announced a two-day shut down, when the only road to the location was underwater.[45] Later, on June 21, producers announced that the production hiatus, scheduled to begin June 27, would take effect immediately.[44] Anson Mount shared pictures of the nearby river and exterior sets flooding on June 20 and 21.[44][46][47]

Filming of the fourth season's 13 episodes will also take place along the Bow River. Filming is expected to occur from April 24 to September 24, 2014.[48]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The first season was given 63% on Metacritic based on 28 reviews, indicating a "generally favorable" impression.[49] The second season was given 60% on Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[50] The Washington Post's Hank Stuever rated the show highly, commenting, "Hands down, the most intriguing show on the fall slate. Though imbued with epic sweep, Hell on Wheels is a western at heart, even if that heart is cold. Plenty of guns, knives, arrows, scalpings – mixed with the incendiary socio-psychological wounds left in the Civil War’s wake."[51]

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times says the show "...takes its cues more from the movies than from life. Never, in the episodes I watched, did I feel as if I were actually seeing how a railroad got built, and sometimes it took a bit of squinting not to see the characters as actors in a field, reading lines. Still, for all the unlikely things [the creators] make happen in order to get their characters into place, and the dogged refusal of a couple of those characters to become interesting at all, the show gathers steam as it goes on."[52]

The Wall Street Journal's Nancy Dewolf Smith comments: " 'Hell on Wheels' finds enough beauty, danger and emotion to make some part of every episode seem fresh and worth waiting for. Not that new is always a good thing. Despite striking performances even in many of the smaller roles, the actors sometimes are made to symbolize very modern obsessions, e.g. with race and gender. The sight of modern sensibilities lurking behind the curtains can break ye olde spell."[53]

Brian Lowry of Variety writes: "While the diverse mix of characters could work to the program's advantage over the long haul, jumping to and fro among them creates a diluted, herky-jerky ride in the early going."[54]

The Washington Post reported that the series has been criticized for not depicting Chinese immigrants[disambiguation needed] during the construction scenes transcontinental railroad. Creator Joe Gayton said "budget-wise and time-wise . . . we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose the [emanating from the East Coast] Union Pacific as opposed to the [emanating from the West Coast] Central Pacific." [55]

Ratings[edit]

The pilot, premiering November 6. 2011, was watched by 4.4 million viewers – AMC's second-highest series premiere in history, following The Walking Dead. Among key demographics, the pilot episode was viewed by 2.4 million viewers in the adults 18–49 category, and 2.3 million viewers in the adults 25–54 demographics, according to Nielsen. The total viewership bested network slot rivals CSI: Miami and Pan Am.[56] The sixth episode was watched by 2.15 million viewers, the lowest viewership of the first season and had a 0.6 rating in the 18–49 age range.[57] The viewership numbers eventually rebounded with the season one finale being watched by 2.84 million viewers, maintaining its steady 0.7 rating in the 18–49 age range.[58] In January 2012, following the season one finale, AMC confirmed Hell on Wheels as the network's second-highest rated original series, behind The Walking Dead, averaging three million viewers per episode.[59]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Recipient Result
2012
Emmy Award Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music Gustavo Santaolalla Nominated[60]
2013 Saturn Award Best Supporting Actor on Television Colm Meaney Nominated

International distribution[edit]

Country or region Channel Premiere date
Africa (orthographic projection).svg Africa Fox Africa[61] February 19, 2012
Asia (orthographic projection).svg Asia Sundance Channel Asia[61]
 Australia ABC2, FX Australia[61] January 7, 2013
 Austria ServusTV November 8, 2013
 Canada AMC, Netflix[citation needed]
 Denmark TV3 Puls[citation needed] October 8, 2012
 France D8[62] June 26, 2013
 Germany TNT Serie[63] January 30, 2013
 Ireland RTÉ[64] September 7, 2012
 Israel Yes[61] April 23, 2012
Latin America (orthographic projection).svg Latin America HBO[61]
 New Zealand Soho[65] January 2012[65]
 Norway VOX[66] January 29, 2012
 Poland Sundance Channel[67] February 2, 2012
 Slovakia Jednotka[68] March 10, 2014
 Turkey CNBC-e[69] February 26, 2012
 United Kingdom TCM[70] May 20, 2012
ITV4[71] June 4, 2013

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Volmers, Eric (August 10, 2012). "Producers build a better Hell for Hell on Wheels near Okotoks". Calgary Herald. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
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