Looking At 'Deadwood,' Sees Cavalry Riding To
by Bill Carter, The New York Times (June 16,
HBO thinks it may have found a series that --
in some ways -- can replace the mighty (and
soon to depart) ''Sopranos'' as its centerpiece
drama. The show is ''Deadwood,'' the gritty,
The news on ''Deadwood,''
HBO's latest drama series, has been highly favorable
on two fronts. It drew the second-highest rating
for any new drama in HBO's history, and it was
also greeted with some of the best reviews that
the network has seen at least since the start
of ''Six Feet Under'' three years ago.
''It really feels like
the new franchise we've been looking for,''
said Chris Albrecht, the HBO chairman.
The show averaged about
4.5 million viewers for its 12-week run, beaten
only by the 5.4 million that ''Six Feet Under''
attracted in its first season, and more than
the 3.4 million that ''The Sopranos'' averaged
in its initial season.
Other HBO dramas were
not even close. ''The Wire'' averaged 3.4 million
viewers for its first season; ''Carnivale''
3.6 million. Exact audience figures for ''Oz''
were not available, but from its rating, HBO
estimated that ''Oz'' drew an average of about
3 million viewers for its first season.
The numbers alone meant
''Deadwood'' was the first truly successful
western series since ''Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,''
which started on CBS 11 years ago. The HBO show
was widely praised for its writing, performances
and western verisimilitude.
''The show just got great
reaction in the press, and not just the TV press,''
Mr. Albrecht said. ''We started to see indications
that the show has begun to cross over into the
popular culture.'' He cited several recent articles
that have noted a big increase in tourism in
the real Deadwood, in South Dakota. He also
said that historians had begun commenting on
the accuracy of both the Western details and
the events and characters depicted in the series.
Most of the show's distinctive
qualities, including complex but down and dirty
characters, crude language and sometimes brutal
violence were highlighted in Sunday night's
finale, which orchestrated a series of tense
confrontations among many of the main characters.
HBO was not even disappointed
that the numbers for the finale were slightly
off from its average for the season, blaming
the competition from the National Basketball
Association finals. That drew many young men,
a surprisingly strong constituency for the show,
away from ''Deadwood.'' Many television executives
have shied away from westerns because they do
not think many younger viewers will watch.
Another reason the finale
may have been off a bit was the absence of ''The
Sopranos'' as a lead-in on Sunday night.
But Mr. Albrecht said
he believed ''Deadwood'' suffered to a degree
in following ''The Sopranos'' because, he said,
''it's so hard to have to follow such a heavy,
challenging series with another one.'' He said
he had also concluded that 10 p.m. Sunday is
not the best time to schedule a tough drama.
So he said when ''Deadwood''
returns for a second season next March he would
install it at 9 p.m. Sunday, a sign that it
has established itself as a main attraction
for the channel. It will return before the final
season of ''The Sopranos,'' which is not expected
until late next year or early in 2006. The next
step for ''Deadwood'' will be one of HBO's familiar
campaigns for Emmy Awards. ''That is always
important for us,'' Mr. Albrecht said.
While the show's writing,
led by its creator, David Milch, and a number
of its actors seem likely to be nominated for
awards, the show's strongest card will surely
be Ian McShane, whose performance as the villainous
but surprisingly vulnerable saloon owner Al
Swearengen came to dominate the series.
''I have not seen people
react to a character as much since Tony Soprano
himself,'' Mr. Albrecht said. ''He is a very
complex character. And then you have just the
incredible performance by Ian. Again I don't
think we've seen a case since Jim Gandolfini
as Tony where an actor and character have merged