Why Is AMC So Obsessed With Texas?
Alternately: Why isn’t every other network?
At SXSW last month, AMC screened the premiere episode of its forthcoming Western drama The Son, based on Texas author Philipp Meyer’s Pulitzer Prize-finalist novel of the same name. It was the third time in four years that the prestigious network launched a new Texas-set series at SXSW—in 2016, it was Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s West Texas-based Preacher, and two years before that, the network’s exploration of the early days of Dallas’ Silicon Hills, Halt and Catch Fire, debuted during the film conference.
When The Son premieres on April 8, there will be nine original scripted series airing on AMC. A full third of them will have originated in Texas. Halt and Catch Fire‘s batch of Texan characters may have uprooted in the show’s third season, and Preacher seems destined for the open road in its second year—but the fact that so much of the network’s programming has been rooted in the Lone Star State’s fertile storytelling grounds should only come as a surprise because other networks often don’t take advantage of Texas as a setting. For every King of the Hill and Friday Night Lights, there are countless Texas stories that go untold.
There’s little in common between Halt and Catch Fire, Preacher, and The Son. The first, a period piece set in the eighties, deals with the burgeoning North Texas tech industry of that era. The profane fantasy series Preacher is set in an exaggerated version of a small West Texas town. And the latest AMC love letter to Texas, The Son, is a postmodern Western that takes place just prior to the onset of the Civil War. The diversity of stories in Texas are part of why its such a potent setting—Austin often feels like it’s a million miles away from Amarillo, and the suburbs north of Dallas can feel like they’re just as far away from the city’s south side. There’s not just one kind of “Texas story,” and AMC’s approach to the state wisely takes that into account.
The Son may be the most traditionally “Texas” tale of the bunch. It’s a heavily researched dramatization of Texas history, with grand patriarchs, Comanche raids, and the settling of the frontier. But it remains to be seen how wide the audience for that kind of story will be. Certainly, neither Halt and Catch Fire or Preacher are the sort of ratings juggernaut for AMC that, say, The Walking Dead (or even spinoff Fear The Walking Dead) is. Still, The Son‘s got a star in Pierce Brosnan—who delivers the sort of iconic performance that recalls Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood—and the show’s blend of elegance and violence is the sort of thing that has been known to attract viewers.
The Son is one of the more ambitious offerings from a network that has never shied away from a challenge. Meyer’s novel is a generations-spanning epic, and should The Son find sufficient audience to get the number of seasons and budget to tell that tale fully, it’s likely to be the sort of singular piece of storytelling that television does so well. There’ve been other attempts to explore Texas history on television recently—the History Channel’s 2015 miniseries Texas Rising, which cast Bill Paxton as Sam Houston and Olivier Martinez as Santa Anna—but given the scale that Meyer’s book works on, The Son is setting itself up to be more than just another AMC show. In the show’s best case scenario, it serves as the Texas version of Game Of Thrones, slowly unfurling a tale of a family that, amidst conflicts and struggles, seeks to establish itself as a power player in a vital land.
And other networks may slowly be waking up to Texas too. NBC’s Midnight, Texas—based on True Blood author Charlaine Harris’ series of the same name—will premiere in May, offering a supernatural take on the state, and HBO’s The Leftovers dipped down here in its second season, as well. As we wait for more networks to catch up, though, AMC sure seems to have us covered.