Jack Myers' Think Tank: HBO, Bring Back 'Deadwood'
"Deadwood," HBO's second most popular dramatic series after "The Sopranos," was relegated to the trash heap when Milch advised executives there he preferred to focus on "John from Cincinnati." After viewer outcry, Milch and HBO agreed to deliver two made-for-HBO movies wrapping up the Western saga. Fans were mollified, but at this stage there are no announced plans for the actual production of the films.
Because of its intensely graphic use of raw language, "Deadwood" was not a candidate for syndication to broadcast or cable, impacting long-term revenue potential for HBO. Similarly, there was little international interest in the purely American series, also reducing revenue opportunities. Although "Deadwood" was a hit among HBO subscribers, it did little to attract new subscribers, and its renewal for a fourth season offered minimal revenue upside for HBO.
But other than "The Sopranos," no dramatic series in recent memory has generated such a passionate fan base as "Deadwood". Showtime's cancelled "Dead Like Me" had similar audience loyalty but a considerably smaller base of fans. I'd like to hear from fans of "Deadwood" and launch a campaign to encourage HBO and Milch, at the very least, to deliver on their promise of giving "Deadwood" an appropriate finale, either with a film, two films, or a final fourth season of 12 one-hour episodes.
One of the uniquely creative techniques that Milch applied in both "Deadwood" and "John from Cincinnati" was having each episode take place in a single day. While the approach didn't really work in "Cincinnati," the day-in-the-life approach of "Deadwood" made sense in chronicling the life of a small South Dakota gold rush town that gained notoriety for being the place where Wild Bill Hickock died holding the Dead Man's poker hand, aces up eights (brought to life shockingly in "Deadwood"'s third episode). "Deadwood" thrived for many years as the home for pioneer gold prospectors before burning to the ground, an event series' fans could look forward to as a natural wind-up for the program. Milch discovered gold with "Deadwood," creating characters unequaled anywhere on television. Although the series captured multiple Emmy nominations and honors, and generated more water cooler talk than just about any series other than "The Sopranos" and "American Idol, HBO suddenly cancelled it when they gave the green light to Cincinnati. Considering Milch's history of quirky programs with limited audience appeal, in "Deadwood" he had a hit that promised to achieve the stature of his classic "NYPD Blue," while "Cincinnati" from the beginning had the earmarks of "Twin Peaks."
The fate of "John from Cincinnati seemed inevitable from the beginning, but if HBO and Milch deliver on their promise, at least fans of "Deadwood" will not feel as dissed and alienated as they do today. HBO's co-president Richard Plepler advised TV critics last month that there is a "50-50 chance that 'Deadwood' would have a final theatrical send-off, adding that the prospects for the film are 'complicated' given Milch's current work on HBO surfer series, 'John from Cincinnati,'" as reported by Multichannel News. That complication is no longer an issue, so the only questions remaining are the availability of actors, Milch's desire to revisit the past, HBO's willingness to fund a financially questionable project, and viewer enthusiasm.
Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Brad Dourif, William Sanderson, Powers Boothe, Robin Weigert, Keone Young, Dayton Callie, Paula Malcomson and other series regulars would be available, so talent should not be an issue. Milch is free. The only real question is HBO's appetite to invest capital into a dead-end project instead of using it to fund new programming.
It's time for HBO to speculate on its gold rush past and bite the bullet. After pulling the plug prematurely on "Deadwood," "Six Feet Under" and "Carnivale," HBO's new management needs to reward fan loyalty with loyalty to one of its best-ever series. HBO: BRING BACK "DEADWOOD"! Fans, voice your opinion below and let HBO hear your voice.