“We’re telling better stories, better this year,” Hell On Wheels showrunner John Wirth (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), who is new to the show, told TV critics this afternoon at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013. Wirth’s the guy who came to the show after the creators’ contracts were not renewed and the guy who took their place took a powder three days later. Naturally press-tour attendees were eager to hear what the new guy had to say. Addressing the ballroom full of TV critics, reporters, bloggers, and tweeters, Wirth said he’s kept “virtually the same writing staff” but is taking a very different approach than that of creators Joe and Tony Gayton. “The show kicked off with revenge being the motivation. That gets wearisome for people over time,” Wirth said. “So we shifted gears…shifting more into an area of redemption, or as we call it, ‘reconstruction’. It’s opened the show, and made the characters more embraceable.”
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Throw your mind back to late October when when AMC announced, on a Monday, it had picked up Hell On Wheels for a third, 10-episode season. The network may have omitted to mention creators/exec producers Joe and Tony Gayton,’s contracts were not renewed on the drama about the mid-19th century construction of the first transcontinental railroad, referred to as “Hell on wheels” by the company men, surveyors, support workers, laborers, mercenaries and prostitutes who called it home. But exec producer/showrunner John Shiban, who’d been with Hell On Wheels since its start, was on board to keep the show humming along — until three days later, when Shiban announced he would not return to the show.
Terse statements issued all around — AMC insisting Shiban had informed the network and show producers he was “fully on board” when the network informed him about their intent to pick up the show for a third season. Shiban admitting he’d been “thrilled” with the pickup, but had “since made the difficult decision that the time has come” for him to bail. AMC noted, ominously, that “like all of our shows, network pickups are always conditioned on an approved showrunner.” And there we were, until mid-December, when AMC announced Wirth (V, Fallen Skies) had been crowned Hell showrunner and the 10-episode third season order had been un-derailed.