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Posted at 06:14 PM ET, 07/28/2011

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: Execs explain casting choices on ‘Hell on Wheels’


The creators, writers and executive producers of 'Hell On Wheels' Joe Gayton (L) and Tony Gayton. (FRED PROUSER - REUTERS)
After an exercise in question non-answering, AMC moved on to the business at hand: plugging its new period drama series, “Hell on Wheels” about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the tent city that moved along the railroad as it was being built.

Right off the bat, the press wanted to know why there are no Chinese immigrant characters in the series given that Chinese labor played a big role in the construction of the cross-country railroad.

More accurately, the question put to the show’s creators, Joe and Tony Gayton, was: “I’m like, ‘Where are the Chinese?… I mean, it was a major part of the thing!”

“I predicted this is probably going to be the first question we were going to be asked,” creator Joe Gayton said proudly. “And probably rightfully so,” he added graciously, “because I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants.”

But, he explained, “One of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught me and Joe, and I think that’s probably the reason,” he said.

This cleared things up not-at-all.

“And just, 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.”

Now clear as mud.

“The genesis of the railroad started in the East,” said Tony Gayton, taking a whack at the question which, to refresh your memory as we travel further and further down the Gayton Family Rabbit Hole, was “Why no Chinese characters?”

“ It was Abraham Lincoln’s idea, and we’ve likened it to JFK, you know, saying, ‘We are going to make the we are going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade’,” Tony Gayton prattled on merrily.

“And it was very similar. So it just seemed a good starting point.”

But, he promised, “The Central Pacific will be a hint in the show. I mean, we will know that they are out there, building.”

“Having said that, we did write the Central Pacific into the pilot,” Joe Gayton jumped back in, sensing the explanation was not going over as well as might be hoped.

“And people asked us if we were insane, if we were trying to get both of the stories -- service both of the stories -- in a one-hour pilot. So they ended up getting excised.”

And there you have you answer, at long last: The Chinese characters? They got “excised.”

By  |  06:14 PM ET, 07/28/2011

 
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