‘Hell on Wheels’ has big debut for AMC

But Western could not equal 'Walking Dead' numbers

AMC’s newest series, the Western drama “Hell on Wheels,” drew 4.4 million viewers in its debut Sunday night.

While below last month’s record-setting, second-season launch of the cabler’s zombie drama “The Walking Dead,” it was the second highest debut in the net’s history. “Wheels,” which aired at 10 p.m., had the benefit of a “Walking Dead” lead-in.

Sunday’s 9 p.m. “Walking Dead” garnered 6.3 million viewers, so while “Hell of Wheels” was strongly sampled, there was a dropoff of nearly 2 million viewers (31%).

Next week’s ratings will play a large part in determining the long-term viability of “Wheels.” In adults 18-49, “Wheels,” a Canadian production shot in Calgary, Alberta, drew 2.4 million adults 18-49 — a dropoff from the 4.3 million that “Dead” drew on Sunday.

“Wheels” retained more of its lead-in among older viewers, which makes sense considering that Westerns are a comfortable fit for longtime TV watchers. It drew 2.3 million adults 25-54, compared with 3.7 million for its lead-in.

“Hell on Wheels” takes place in post-Civil War America and centers on a revengeful Confederate soldier and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Anson Mount, Colm Meaney and rapper-turned-actor Common star.

Skein was created by Joe Gayton and Tony Gayton, who exec produce with Jeremy Gold, John Shiban and David Von Ancken, who directed the pilot. Series was developed by Endemol USA, in one of its few scripted ventures, and Entertainment One.