New Breed: 'Carnivale'
by Daniel Frankel, Variety (June 17, 2004)
Where mysticism's often meted out in meticulously
An apocalyptic tale set in the Dust Bowl that
blends elements of "Twin Peaks," "The
Exorcist" and "The Grapes of Wrath"
doesn't seem a good fit for a pay cabler with
an acumen for urban-based dramas such as "Sex
and the City" and "The Sopranos."
But with gritty period
drama "Deadwood" also staking its
claim on HBO these days, "Carnivale's"
inclusion on the signature Sunday night sked
doesn't seem so, well, freakish.
merging storylines of a fugitive carnival worker
and a priest who will meet, supposedly, somewhere
down the line in an epic battle of good vs.
evil--wound up with 3.5 million viewers for
its finale. It drew 5.3 million for its premiere.
A Depression-era scholar
who had often wondered why the Wild West has
been far more mythologized in movies and books
than the 1930s, exec producer and creator Daniel
Knauf Knauf actually completed a "feature"-length
screenplay for what would eventually turn into
"Carnivale" in 1991.
"It was like my
third or fourth script, so I was too inexperienced
to know that this was not a feature," Knauf
explains. "When I got to page 80, and I
still wasn't in my second act, I began to get
The script--a "big
story about God vs. Satan set in the Depression,"
as Knauf describes it--sat in his desk bottom
drawer, while he worked sporadically in Hollywood,
fleshing out his family's income with an insurance
Save for a 1994 movie
he wrote for HBO, "Blind Justice,"
Knauf admits he didn't know anyone in TV. And
he was becoming quite discouraged with the state
of the feature business by 2001, when he decided
to give his writing career one last push--and
his "Carnivale" script fell into the
hands of TV producer Scott Winant. That led
to a meeting with producer Howard Klein, and
further down the road, with HBO brass.
"It was a tall order
(for HBO)," Knauf concedes. "It wasn't
like I had come to them with an Oscar tucked
under my arm like ('Six Feet Under' creator)
Alan Ball. And the only thing they had on the
air at the time were urban dramas. We just happened
to hit them at a time when they were thinking
of taking a very different direction in their
Best episode: "Babylon."
The Carnivale stumbles upon an eerie Texas mining
town and loses young Dora Mae to a village of
Most complex character
and why: Brother Justin Crowe. A life of spiritual
service masks the true demonic nature of the
man from even himself, but his powers of manipulation,
and his fire-and-brimstone sermons, slowly reveal
What should happen next
season: "I think what we'll see is more
intrusions of Carnivale into Brother Justin's
world, and more intrusions of Brother Justin
into Carnivale," says Knauf.