Fans of AMC’s brutal revisionist western Hell on Wheels had much to celebrate earlier this week. Despite a significant drop in viewership during season 2, AMC announced that it had renewed the series for another run of ten episodes.

Just days after that well-received announcement, a new press release states that AMC has temporarily suspended pre-production of Hell on Wheels’ season 3, after the departure of its main showrunner.

EW reports that John Shiban, the former writer/producer who was appointed Hell on Wheels showrunner, has dropped out of the production. Shiban issued a statement that cited no specific reason for his exit; a concurrent statement by AMC and production companies Entertainment One and Endemol says that Shiban left as the result of a, “personal decision.” So far, it appears that the split was sudden but amicable; Shiban praises the Hell on Wheels creative team as a, “. . . wonderful group of very talented people.”

Without John Shiban at the helm, Hell on Wheels finds itself lacking a single creative voice to guide the new season. As such, AMC has declared season 3 of the series on hold until Shiban’s replacement can be found. According to Entertainment Weekly, previous showrunners Joe and Tony Gayton remain as creative consultants but have not been considered to return to the series’ main chair. No names were shared as possible candidates for the top spot.

Though this is certainly disheartening news for anyone clamoring for new episodes of Hell on Wheels, it may only be a slight bend in the tracks. AMC and its production companies have shown a knack for attracting solid talent. If anyone can reel in a new creative voice to guide Hell on Wheels – and do so quickly – it’s the same people who have shown great turnaround time for shows like The Walking Dead.

That said, one can’t help but wonder how this will affect the eventual scope and substance of the show itself. If Entertainment One and Endemol choose a showrunner outside the current Hell on Wheels creative team, the unfamiliar influence of this new voice could radically alter the series’ future. The previous choice of show veteran Shiban indicates that this is not a likely outcome, but everything is more or less up in the air at this point. Anything can happen, and this might lead to a very different sort of direction for the soot-caked western.

Hell on Wheels is still scheduled to begin production in spring of 2013, but its actual air date has yet to be determined.

Source: Entertainment Weekly