What Happened When Deadwood Was Canceled By HBO

Each time a present you like will get canceled, it hurts. However the cancellation of David Milch’s Deadwood in Could 2006 harm worse as a result of nobody noticed it coming, together with the principle gamers.

Milch’s HBO anti-western debuted in March 2004 to largely rave opinions and glorious rankings, thanks largely to having season 5 of The Sopranos as its lead-in. The numbers for season two, which debuted virtually precisely a 12 months later, weren’t as robust since Deadwood was now main off the night time, however they had been nonetheless substantial sufficient to rank among the many cable community’s hottest dramas. There was no purpose for anybody inside or outdoors of tv to assume it wouldn’t run 5 seasons, as Milch wished. HBO had lured the powerhouse writer-producer of Hill Avenue Blues and NYPD Blue with the promise of artistic management, a beneficiant price range, and practically limitless content material restrictions, and set him up at Melody Ranch Studios outdoors of Los Angeles with one of many largest freestanding units in TV historical past, re-creating the eponymous mining camp in all its muddy glory. The present even had an inside okay to begin manufacturing on season 4 when the axe fell.

The sequence of occasions resulting in its cancellation lengthy remained cloudy; key members had been vulnerable to eliding unflattering particulars within the telling, or shifting blame onto others (and in some instances, themselves) for private causes. However within the making of The Deadwood Bible, a definitive account of David Milch’s life and artwork, I used to be capable of nail down the small print. The e book — which was produced with Jeremy Fassler, who helped analysis the biographical part of Bible from which this excerpt was drawn — tapped right into a city’s price of collaborators, together with Milch’s household, key actors, producers, writers, and crew, to inform the whole story of the present.

There are key particulars it’s best to know earlier than studying the part beneath, which begins the day the present’s cancellation was set in movement and ends with the publication of Deadwood: Tales of the Black Hills, a making-of e book by Milch that was meant as a companion to season 4 however ended up carrying a tragic postscript. (There’s additionally point out of plans for 2 Deadwood motion pictures that ended up turning into only a single characteristic movie greater than a decade later.) The dramatis personae of the excerpt embrace Milch and HBO government Chris Albrecht; Deadwood solid member and Milch confidant Dayton Callie; Milch’s spouse, Rita, and daughter, Elizabeth; and numerous actors, producers, and writers, together with co-stars Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, and W. Earl Brown and government producer Gregg Feinberg.

Deadwood died on a Friday.

The date was Could 5, 2006. It was late afternoon in Santa Monica. David Milch was sitting behind his desk in his workplace at Crimson Board reverse Dayton Callie, speaking about screenwriting, when his secretary informed him that Chris Albrecht was on the cellphone.

Callie didn’t hear Albrecht’s aspect of the dialog, however mentioned the discuss with Milch was transient; it centered on the variety of episodes Milch would want to do a fourth season; it was punctuated by Milch’s “Mm-hmms” and “Nos.” and it ended with Milch saying, “Okay, fuck it — why don’t we do none.”

Stated Callie:

When he hung up, I mentioned “What the fuck was that?” After which he mentioned “They need me to do eight fucking episodes. I informed them to fuck off.” I mentioned “I do know you informed them to fuck off. However why don’t we do fucking eight, after which fucking say we want fucking 4 extra? Why the fuck can we gotta give up like this?” He mentioned “No, no, no — I don’t like that.”

Milch informed Callie he wanted area so he might name the solid and fill them in on the most recent developments, beginning with Timothy Olyphant. On his method out, Callie informed Milch, “All proper, they’ll work it out. They’ll work it out. That is fucking silly. We obtained a pleasant present, an excellent present.’”

Albrecht didn’t keep in mind Milch’s “Okay, fuck it — why don’t we do none,” however undoubtedly remembered Milch telling him, “We will simply not do a fourth season and finish the present the place it’s now.” The HBO exec mentioned he replied, “That’s not what I’m saying to you. David, simply take into consideration this. We will work it out. Should you come again and inform me ‘That is what it’s gotta be’” — that means extra episodes than Albrecht had simply supplied him — “we will determine it out.”

John from Cincinnati was additionally a part of this dialogue. Albrecht mentioned he had began the decision by telling Milch he beloved the pilot script for John and was keen to start manufacturing on Season 1:

I mentioned, “We want to get on to the following factor, and you may’t actually do two [shows] without delay. Right here’s the place we’re with Deadwood: as an alternative of doing 12 episodes, do you assume perhaps we might end up the sequence in perhaps six?” 

And he mentioned “Look, in the event you guys wish to not do the present, I’m not a type of guys that thinks I’ve to complete it. We will simply finish it.” 

I mentioned “David, that’s not the dialog I’m making an attempt to have now. What I’m saying to you is, perhaps there’s some in-between the place we will do the correct factor for the present, after which go on to the following factor for you.” 

After which I might inform he was struggling. It was the weekend, and I mentioned, “David, simply give it some thought over the weekend. Let’s discuss it subsequent week. Should you come again to me and also you say ‘It’s gotta be 12 episodes,’ we’ll do 12 episodes, as a result of that’s on the coronary heart of who we had been, you recognize?” I wasn’t going to finish this nice expertise with a nasty scenario.

I’m telling you, that is the story. A whole lot of issues I’ll say to you I don’t keep in mind, however I keep in mind this story. What I simply informed you is what occurred. We favored different stuff, we wished to maneuver on, we wished to seek out the correct ending for David, we talked to him about another options apart from a full season, he obtained upset.

Milch later defined that he felt a fiduciary duty to his solid to do 12 episodes, the variety of Deadwood episodes the Melody Ranch gang had been used to creating. Due to this fact, he couldn’t settle for considerably lower than 12. He additionally thought it was higher to let everybody know that he and HBO had been having variations, and they need to begin excited about backup plans in case the worst occurred.

“He obtained very nervous that folks had been going to get screwed if [the renewal] didn’t undergo,” Elizabeth Milch mentioned. Albrecht added, “David knew that Tim Olyphant had simply put a proposal in on a home.”

At this level you, the reader, have most likely seen that accounts differ as as to whether Albrecht initially supplied Milch six episodes or eight.

Albrecht began his Deadwood Bible interview by stating that he had supplied Milch six, as quoted above, however revised his account to say that it might need been eight, as Callie mentioned — or that it might need been ten. Everybody beforehand interviewed about Deadwood’s cancellation who knew this a part of the story confidently mentioned that Albrecht supplied Milch six episodes, and that quantity seems in media stories over the following decade-plus.

There’s additionally consensus that Milch might need settled on six as a result of individuals who knew him would perceive why he’d felt insulted by a half-season order and reacted intemperately. Six was an affront in the event you had been him.

However eight? Eight was one thing else. You possibly can construct on eight.

Albrecht, nonetheless, insisted that the precise quantity was unimportant, as a result of the dialog was speculated to be a place to begin, not an ending:

Perhaps I mentioned “If it’s not six, perhaps it’s eight.” However I additionally mentioned “David, simply take into consideration this. We will work it out. Should you come again and inform me “That is what it’s gotta be,” we will determine it out. Any time you say to someone “six” and so they get upset, and also you say “How about eight?” a midway clever particular person would say, “I wager I might get ten.” Proper? 

However right here’s why I’m telling you that I do know the reality: as a result of it wasn’t six or eight or ten. It wasn’t as if David mentioned “eight” and hung up the cellphone. It wasn’t David hanging up the cellphone. It was David choosing up the cellphone then, and calling Tim Olyphant. 

That was the issue. OK? He determined that it was his responsibility to name Tim Olyphant and inform him that HBO wished to cancel Deadwood and perhaps he shouldn’t put the provide in on the home. By the point the weekend was over, the trades had it that we had been cancelling Deadwood, as a result of I’m positive what occurred with Tim is he referred to as his agent and mentioned “Holy fuck, they’re cancelling Deadwood!”

David ought to have simply shut up and calmed down over the weekend. We might have talked about it on Monday, and we’d have come to an answer that will have resulted in a Season 4 and an ending to the story, or the sequence, okay? 

However he did what he did, and it obtained out of our arms. 

We by no means canceled the present. The present canceled itself.

HBO knew they’d a public relations nightmare on their arms. Regardless that no one on the community had mentioned “Deadwood is canceled,” there was a notion that wheels had been in movement.

Behind the scenes, executives began sorting themselves into pro- and anti-cancellation camp, with the professionals insisting the rankings efficiency didn’t justify its price range. (Deadwood was the fourth-highest rated HBO drama of 2005). Albrecht has by no means given a transparent image of which consequence he would have most well-liked. Strauss was pro-renewal (inside limits), as she was and would proceed to be Milch’s champion. In Tinderbox, HBO’s co-president of authorized affairs Hal Akselrad mentioned that his fellow government Richard Plepler “drove exhausting to cancel Deadwood.”

Milch, for his half, realized his impulsiveness had rung up the curtain on one other profession catastrophe — the worst but. He supplied to go to New York and attempt to work issues out, mentioned Rita and Elizabeth Milch. There was at the very least one aircraft journey there, probably early within the week that adopted the Could 5 dialog.

On Thursday of that week — Could 11, 2006 — Selection ran a narrative headlined, “Is Deadwood Driving Off Into the Sundown?” The abstract beneath the headline mentioned: “HBO confirmed Thursday afternoon that it had let lapse the choices on the solid of the grisly Western. Determination frees the actors of any additional obligation to the present, which has but to be renewed for a fourth season.”

If Deadwood wasn’t useless but, it positive was trying inexperienced across the gills. The present would expire attributable to inaction, in addition to a need of key members to maneuver on quite than attempt to unring a bell.

Leah Cevoli went by way of a deep despair that summer season. In the future in August, she referred to as her mom to clarify the scenario. “My mother mentioned, ‘Isn’t this across the time you’ll have began again on Deadwood?’ I mentioned ‘Properly yeah, mother, I assume it’s.’ And she or he mentioned ‘Properly honey, these previous three years of your life, this was your job. After all you’re lacking it and feeling depressed about it.’ And I used to be like, ‘Yeah. Wow.’ She was proper.”

“It’s a tragedy that it ever went off the air,” Ian McShane mentioned, “however that was additionally partly David’s fault, and partly the powers that be at HBO on the time. It was a conflict of fucking egos in addition to every thing else. The rationale it went off was due to human failure.”

Solid, crew, and followers had been despondent. Some had been indignant. As McShane mentioned, there was loads of blame to go round — though Fienberg would later categorical skepticism at Albrecht’s narrative of the clusterfuck, as a result of to his thoughts, it represented an abdication of his and Strauss’ government duty.

“Do you assume if David Chase had ended a dialog about doing a sixth season of The Sopranos on a Friday by going, ‘Fuck it, how about none,’ that they wouldn’t have referred to as him again instantly and mentioned, ‘Wait a second, let’s discuss this and see if we will work one thing out’?” Fienberg requested. “Let’s not let HBO off the hook right here.”

Albrecht’s description of what occurred after the fateful Friday name doesn’t rule that risk out, both:

Some [agents] might need referred to as us after that and mentioned, “Properly in the event you’re canceling the present, we have to know, as a result of my shopper wants a job.” And we definitely had been by no means gonna screw someone over. That’s why I mentioned it simply began to crumble, as a result of as soon as shit is on the market, now I’m within the spot of, “Properly, I gotta order the present.” 

It was like David picked up his ball and went dwelling. And you recognize — We’re like: Okay. I assume it simply sort of spiraled into a tragic, unlucky, pointless end result, which was by no means anyone’s intention. 

So, like I mentioned, I don’t keep in mind “How about none!” and hanging up, however perhaps he did. Feels like one thing David would say. However I stand by my story, as a result of I do know it’s true.

On June 11, 2006, the New York Instances revealed a narrative titled “Deadwood Will get a New Lease on Life.” It supplied a boiled-down account of the passive cancellation and its fallout. It spoke of a fan petition to deliver again the sequence and an “open letter” to the community positioned in Selection by savedeadwood.web. Each threatened cancellation of subscriptions.

“I’ve at all times recognized that the assist for this present was not a mile extensive,” Milch mentioned of fan efforts to avoid wasting the present. “Nevertheless it was a fathom deep.”

Milch’s feedback made it appear as if ending Deadwood was his choice, made as a result of he didn’t need the present’s creative integrity to be compromised. “It appeared to me that some form of partial order for the present would make it not possible to do something however superimpose all kinds of interpretations that will deprive it of its personal emotion,” he mentioned. ‘The viewer would come to it with all kinds of second agendas, and I didn’t wish to try this.”

The lede, nonetheless, was buried far down within the piece: Albrecht, Strauss, and Milch had reached an settlement to finish the story in 2007 with a pair of two-hour Deadwood movies. Jody Price believes this was the results of Milch’s damage-control journey to New York.

However nothing ever got here of the announcement, and later, Fienberg questioned whether or not HBO was ever critical about it. His producer’s mind informed him there was no monetary benefit to doing it that method. A pair of two-hour motion pictures — 4 episodes, principally — would have been at the very least as costly as a partial season, given the prices of restarting and breaking down a canceled manufacturing, and luring again solid members from different tasks.

In November, 2006, Milch revealed his Deadwood tie-in e book Tales of the Black Hills, written throughout Season 2 and containing copious element about Season 3. It was clear to anybody who paid consideration to language and tone that everybody who contributed writing or interviews to its pages had assumed they had been engaged on a present that will proceed.

The one discordant ingredient was a one-page assertion by Milch that appeared on the very finish — leaping off from an announcement that, by the point of publication, was already beginning to look like a pipe dream:

Subsequent 12 months, in lieu of a fourth, twelve-episode season, Deadwood will finish with two two-hour specials. Most likely I had an excessive amount of to do with the method to supply any fair-minded account of how that call was come to. I’ll take that as pretext for staying with vapid generalities. Right here is an instance: “There are not any enforceable ensures about something that actually issues.”


I’ve been quoted as saying I had a plan to finish the sequence on the finish of a fourth full season. As a sociopath, I reply the questions of interviewers to attain an impression of cogency and farsightedness quite than hewing slavishly to the reality.


The reality is, I by no means had a grasp plan for Deadwood. I do know good tales about lots of the historic characters within the sequence that will take them by way of one other twenty-five years, and good ones, too, concerning the characters I’ve made up. However as I’ve mentioned right here, I work moment-to-moment; this consists of acknowledging the variability of alternative every second affords. The current second seems to exclude the twenty-five 12 months different.


The 2 two-hour specials will probably be a great way to complete the sequence. The primary thirty-six episodes took an Aristotelian strategy to dramatic construction—more-or-less, every story came about in twenty-four hours. This appeared to me in service to creating an environment of ordinariness, irrespective of how disjunctive with the viewer’s concept of ordinariness the occasions portrayed might have appeared. These final two telefilms will deal otherwise with time.


If I’ve already mentioned in these pages earlier than that Mister Warren referred to as Time the key topic of each story price telling, I don’t thoughts ending by saying it once more.

The Deadwood Bible and companion works can be found solely at mzs.press.