AMC moves 'Hell on Wheels' to Saturday night: Is it the new Sunday?

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Can AMC make Saturday the new Sunday?

The cable network is moving Hell on Wheels to Saturday nights for the Western-drama’s upcoming third season, which gets underway on Aug. 3.

Once upon a time, Saturday nights were popular for watching prime-time TV — ABC’s The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and NBC’s Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes were on Saturday in the early ’80s. And Saturdays are still considered a premium evening in the UK, where the British version of The X Factor runs its live performance shows on Saturday nights. Yet about a decade ago, the evening dried up and now consists mainly of repeats, sports, and a few old-timers like COPS.

In recent years, cable networks set their sights on Sundays to launch their tent-pole dramas. But Sundays are getting pretty crowded. In November you had AMC’s The Walking Dead, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Showtime’s Dexter and Homeland bursting DVRs. While Starz has tried to stay out of the line of fire by invading Friday nights with shows like Spartacus and Boss.

For AMC, the Saturday strategy makes a kind of sense because the network has often aired classic Western films on the night. So the Hell on Wheels move is a bit like how AMC uses its Halloween movie programming to cue up The Walking Dead each October. “A new episode of Hell on Wheels on Saturday night after a full day of western fan favorites is going to be like the saddle on top of the horse,” said Charlie Collier, president and GM, AMC. “This is a programmer’s dream – to have a genre specific, 14-hour lead-in to one of your highest rated originals. We are so excited about this opportunity to entertain AMC’s audience in a new way.”

Hell on Wheels’ new showrunner, John Wirth, says the upcoming season “will be a Western about work — the building of the railroad, the binding of the nation after the Civil War, and the rehabilitation of the men who lived and fought their way through those exploits. This season we’re placing Cullen Bohannon at the center of the show, and taking him away from the revenge motive which propelled him into the series.”

We don’t see a Saturday land rush happening anytime soon. But in this case it might actually help Hell on Wheels survive if the show can pull any kind of decent number on the night.

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