LOS ANGELES – Sunday's 90-minute series premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead" made television history. Delivering 10.1 million viewers, it took the crown as most-watched series debut in cable TV history, the AMC network said Monday.
On “Fear the Walking Dead,” the prequel to the wildly popular “The Walking Dead,” the virus is just starting to reach the West Coast. The idea is comparable to the 1978 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," in which the humans had a visceral feeling that their friends and neighbors weren't quite right, something was off, but they couldn't put their finger on exactly what the difference was.
"We've structured Season 1 to be about the building dread, the anxiety and paranoia, and the not knowing," executive producer David Erickson tells FOX411. "The goal was to create a different kind of tension. We've structured it in a way that our characters are somewhat insulated from what's really going on in the outside world throughout much of the season."
The father figure of "Fear" is English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who has two families. He is currently living with high school guidance counselor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her two children: Nick (Frank Dillane), a 19-year-old drug addict, and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a model student and overachiever.
Then there is his ex-wife Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez), a single mother working to put herself through nursing school, and their son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie), a rebellious teenager who isn't too thrilled with his dad having a second family.
Unlike "The Walking Dead," the characters in "Fear" are not police officers or hunters, who know how to handle guns. They're regular people trying to manage complicated lives and every-day jobs, so violence is not instinctive to them. As a result, we get a fresh look through their eyes as they tackle the issue of the "infected." [They aren’t called “walkers” as the producers try to use different language to establish an identity separate from "The Walking Dead" for "Fear."]
"It's physically difficult to kill someone and, in our show, you're dealing with your colleague, your friend, your family, someone you had coffee with the day before, and suddenly, they're attacking you," Erickson says. "Your first instinct is to try to help them because, clearly, something's wrong. Your second instinct would be to run. Then, third and final, if you're defending yourself, defending your family…our characters will be forced into a place where they have to commit violent acts but it takes a toll. There's emotional damage. There's psychological trauma."
Another difference between the two series -- but a small one -- is the walkers on "Fear" will be more active than on "The Walking Dead," because they are freshly minted.
"As a walker really begins to atrophy, there's also muscle decay," Erickson says. "I think you'll notice a little bit more energy in our walkers. Also, they look more human, and it's one of the reasons it's difficult to kill them because you still try to talk to them as though they're your friends."
With two shows following the same mythology, it is instinctive for audiences to hope that the two will come together at some point in the future. But there are no immediate plans to do a crossover episode any time soon -- even with "Fear" having been picked up for its second season before the first one airs.
(The first season of "Fear the Walking Dead" will run for six episodes this fall, then return for a second season of 15 episodes next year.)
"I love the idea later in the show of our group making some kind of migration and heading east," Erickson says. "I don't know when exactly that would happen, or if it happens what that would look like, but that's quite a journey to get there."
"Fear the Walking Dead" airs Sundays on AMC.
The AP contributed to this report.