If You're So Smart, Why Are You Writing a Column?


Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan pens the real-world version of the classic Onion Op/Ed "I Can't Believe The TV They Make Me Watch" by Bud Dalrymple, Viewer. If you've been staying up nights wondering "Whither HBO?" Ryan's got what you're looking for, a weirdly detailed and concerned investigation of which shows on the premium cable channel have jumped the shark, which ones are being canceled before they jump the shark, which ones may have jumped back, and whether all of this might endanger Charles Francis Dolan's greatest creation by causing a disruption in HBO's schedule that may occur as early as the 2008 elections:

"Big Love" is watchable and its cast is first-rate, but it's not, in myopinion, a must-see program… [A] show about one man and his multiple wives the program that's going to draw in the female viewers who were addicted to the ultimate thinking-woman's romantic comedy, "Sex and the City"?

"Rome" is terrific, but it's so expensive that one wonders how long the network will keep it going. "Entourage" has the buzz that HBO covets so much and it's a delightfully diverting treat, but it's no "Sopranos" and it will no doubt run its course in another two or three seasons.

Most shocking of all is the network's decision to let the contracts of its "Deadwood" actors lapse, which effectively means that the show is not coming back after its third-season finale. Not coming back. Ever. Let that stunning fact sink into your brain.

It's like Admiral Nelson poking a hole in his own ship just before the battle of Trafalgar.

Allowing "Deadwood" to wither, in favor of an as-yet-unseen new surfing series from "Deadwood's" creator, David Milch, is a disastrous decision, and it sends a worrying signal at a crucial time for HBO. Not only will the show go into 2007 without that critically acclaimed, buzz-worthy program in its arsenal but one of the most original, poetic and well-acted shows on TV will die a premature, entirely unwarranted death. I've seen the first few episodes of the show's third season, and the death of "Deadwood" is truly a dagger in the heart of any fan of quality drama…

Wouldn't it make more sense to shoot a fourth season of "Deadwood," allowing an orderly transition during the crucial year of "The Sopranos" exit, then allow Milch to turn his attention to a new show?

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that does make more sense, Maureen; but it was either John Maynard Keynes or Bil Keane who observed, "In two or three seasons, we are all dead." I haven't been an HBO subscriber for many years, so I can't speak about Deadwood except to note that I'd much rather watch a show about surfing than a show about cowboys. But in this crazy, hill-of-beans, DVD, TiVo, On Demand, Vongo world, is anybody still thinking about this kind of seasonal schedule/destination viewing stuff anymore? I don't know, maybe it makes sense: HBO still has to get people subscribing, and there's only so much you can do hosting Royce Gracie fights or showing The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants four times a day. Presumably HBO gets most of its subscription money from people buying it as part of some bigger cable package. The Sopranos at its peak scored 13.4 million viewers, still far less than a hit show on a broadcast network attracts—and by all accounts the networks themselves are dying a slow and boring death. Maybe some reshuffling of programs (which I think translates into keeping the programs the Trib's critic likes) might make some difference, but right now I wouldn't want to be running HBO's business model, which consists mainly of paying a lot of money to be the first forum for content that makes a lot of its profit in other media.

Courtesy of ArtsJournal.

Forget Deadwood saving HBO: Can it save the Democrats?

TV critics are always ripe for parody.

Back in aught-five, I stood up for the clumsy, mindlessly inclusive cable packages we, the real Bud Dalrymples, have no choice but to endure.

NEXT: Pot Possession 'Recriminalized' in Alaska

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  1. “Rome” is terrific, but it’s so expensive that one wonders how long the network will keep it going.

    I am showing my bias here, but “Rome” as a historical narrative isn’t that great. Indeed, it is about the sort of thing one would expect out of the entertainment industry and is about as interesting as the recent movies Alexander and Troy. Thus ends my elitist, history-centered diatribe.

  2. Admiral Nelson again? Before the naked quad statue in Trafalgar Square story on H&R, I honestly had no idea who Nelson was…is Maureen Ryan an H&R blogger by day, insignificant columnist by night???

  3. I’ve heard HBO has agreed to produce two two hour episodes of Deadwood so the series can end with a sense of closure or something like that. This is good news as it might be my favorite TV show ever.

  4. BTW, speaking of history, around this time on June 5th 1944 the maquis had put their sabotage operations into full action and the British 6th Airborne Division were about an hour away from jumping into Normandy. The 82nd and 101st Airborne would also be starting their operations, capturing and then holding (despite significant losses) the first liberated French town: Sainte-M?re-?glise.

  5. Before the naked quad statue in Trafalgar Square story on H&R, I honestly had no idea who Nelson was…

    Turn off your iPod and read some history, kid!

  6. Sir John Jervis: I knew Viscount Nelson, and you are no Viscount Nelson.

    cecil: Huh?

  7. I’m still pissed-off about HBO dropping Carnivale. That was a great show. The portrayal of Depression-era Southwest was amazing.

    Plus, Bree Walker! How can you go wrong with a show that has Bree Walker in it?

  8. I’m distraught over the apparent cancellation of Dead Like Me, which I thought did just a brilliant (if sometimes a bit uneven) job of lightening the conversation about the nature of Death.

    I had actually considered going beyond basic cable and subscribing to Showtime in order to catch this show, instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD. Alas and alack, the studio heads have decided that they are wiser than their audiences, as usual.

  9. Helloo? The Wire? Are you out there anywhere? Hellooo?

  10. NSZ: In trying to make a bit of a humorous point, I angered the history experts…forgive me.
    Actually, I have always been more of a student of American naval history, like nine years after Nelson’s great victory over the French… You know, when the British, emboldened by their heroic victory decided to try messing with the Yanks one last time.
    General Thomas MacDonough laid waste to the mighty British Great Lakes fleet with substandard equipment and rag-tag reservists by allowing the British fleet to float south of his position in Plattsburgh Bay on Lake Champlain. Upon doing so, he magnificently cut his bow anchors only, thus letting the water current expose his undamaged flank to the heavliy damaged British fleet, and he let loose, destroying the great British fleet and preventing New England and the Great Lakes from falling unfer the King’s rule once again.

    I don’t even own an i-pod smart-ass. 🙂

  11. I just now finally saw the end of Carnivale, and am steamed. It was such an intelligently written, beautifully set, and masterfully acted series. It also happened to be one of the most original things I’ve ever seen on television. I signed the petition at savecarnivale.org, but I doubt we’ll ever get to see the end. The show was apparently their most expensive, at $4mil/episode, and the ratings weren’t good. I guess most people found the show “confusing.” Silly me. I thought that was the point. Half the fun is trying to figure out the roles of the various characters. Oh well, at least they will have that surfing show.. I’m sure it will have a great “plot”, and by plot, I mean, boobies.

  12. Jason: You’ll be pleased to know that The Wire recently finished filming of season four.

  13. Cocksuckers!

  14. Tim, if you haven’t seen Deadwood yet you’re really missing out. If I hadn’t already developed a perverse relationship with The Sopranos I’d surely name Deadwood as the best TV show ever. It really is that good.

  15. I’m just going to come out and say it: the market has decided that Deadwood wasn’t viable, and that makes the market a useless piece of crap.

    What do you want out of a show? Nudity? Got it! People getting murdered right and left? Got it! Foul language? Got it! Every episode of that show was juicy and delicious, not unlike an apple. Rome and Big Love are a lot of trashy fun, but put them next to Deadwood and they are like the dog feces that I scrape from my shoe with a stick.

    From here on out, I foreswear my libertarian principles. The cable networks must be nationalized, and a five-year plan put in place to increase Deadwood production tenfold.

  16. “Cocksuckers!”

    Your sayin’ what I’m thinkin’ Eric.

    It’s been over a year (I think) since any new episodes of Deadwood aired and now I hear this….Dammit!

  17. I haven’t been an HBO subscriber for many years, so I can’t speak about Deadwood except to note that I’d much rather watch a show about surfing than a show about cowboys.

    That being the case, this thread was aptly titled. Ignore the fact that Deadwood is about as much about cowboys as, oh, say, “The Old Man And The Sea” is about fishing. About community and order rising from a perverse sort of state of nature in Dakota Territory in the 1870s, sure, but about cowboys? If there is a more fascinating character on television now than Ian McShane’s brilliantly developed Al Swearengen, I haven’t seen it and the rest of the ensemble cast is also first rate.

    All I can say is it’s going to have to be one hell of a surfing show.

  18. Cocksucker!

    Judis lovin mother fucking cocksuckers!

  19. All I can say is it’s going to have to be one hell of a surfing show.

    I agree that Deadwood has definitely set the bar extremely high, but I do find the idea of a show described as “surf noir” incredibly intriguing. If anyone can pull off such a weird concept, it’s David Milch.

    Also, I second Jason’s plea for recognition of The Wire. Not even a mention in the article? Sigh.

  20. I agree that Deadwood has definitely set the bar extremely high, but I do find the idea of a show described as “surf noir” incredibly intriguing.

    My point exactly. The Deadwood guy is supposed to be pretty talented. For all we know, the pitch for this surfing show may be the greatest series concept since The Beverly Hillbillies. I’m not knocking Deadwood, or any other kind of wood, although when it comes to Quality Television I’m pretty much the anti-Steven Johnson. You can have your involving story arcs, subtle and complex characters, and triple-decker interwoven plots. I expect to be courted by TV, not the other way around. Give me a single episode wrapup with the same group of likable regulars telling variations of the same stupid jokes. That’s that TV’s all about!

  21. I watched a couple of episodes of Deadwood but didn’t get into it. I’ve already seen enough westerns to last me the rest of my artificially enhanced life. Maybe I just didn’t get it because it takes several episodes to appreciate, but with an HBO series you get like 16-25 episodes every three to four years, so what’s the point.

    I have to say that I love Rome. I think it’s fantastic eye candy, and the deviations from historical fact are not too upsetting to me. I don’t know why, that’s the kind of thing that makes most historical stuff unwatchable to me. Perhaps because I’ve never invested any serious study to ancient Rome.

  22. I’ve noticed a very different effect of a television show on me when I’m able to rent it as opposed to seeing it just when it appears on the schedule. I can’t even sit through any of the network TV shows, for the most part, as the commercials just interrupt the flow too much and drive me crazy. But being able to see “Lost” (a little silly but watchable) as a rental makes it watchable. Then again, I kind of enjoyed “Arrested Development” when I would just see it on the odd moment very infrequently. But when I tried renting it it just started to seem like it was trying too hard to be eccentric.

    I still think the first season or two of “Six Feet Under” was the best thing ever. “Carnivale” was great, too. Ditto for the “Sopranos.” Now, I’m enjoying “The Shield.” If any show demonstrates the corrupting effect of the drug war on the police force and society in general it’s that show. And most of the cops are neither all bad or all good – just humans that are vulnerable to the same corruptions as the rest of us – or more so since they have the power.

  23. Swearingen is no Lovejoy — best non-HBO series — Rescue Me — hands down…

  24. Swearingen! Cocksucker! America!

  25. Give me a single episode wrapup with the same group of likable regulars telling variations of the same stupid jokes. That’s that TV’s all about!

    Like my pappy always said… you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time… and those are good odds.

  26. my boss swears that deadwood is an amazing show, but i have yet to see it (not a subscriber).

    i will certainly miss the sopranos. for my money, it’s the best series i’ve ever seen.

    now i usually catch a lot of flak for saying this, but in my opinion, james gandolfini’s tony soprano is the best depiction of a mobster in movies or television. *ducks*

  27. Amen to Carnivale.

    Which, ironicly enough, died because HBO felt they couldn’t have two dustbowl-era shows on at the same time. Then they kill Deadwood anyway.

    No justice, i tell ya.

  28. What amazes me is the amount of attention HBO manages to generate given the miniscule audience they pull, even for their biggest “hits”.

    It seems like another obvious case of “Walmart Syndrome” – where the great vast majority of the country is ignored by the mainstream press and the focus is placed squarely on the habits of the inhabitants of New York and Los Angeles (maybe San Francisco).

    Just look at “Sex in the City” – when the show ended, it was on the cover of every magazine on the newstand, but no one, not one soul, between Pennsylvania and Idaho had ever even heard of the show…

  29. Yea, the Wire. There must be at least 15 of us who love that show.

  30. I think Deadwood is the best thing I’ve ever watched. But it does seem like it never got the audience in a big way. Of my friends, only a handful watch it.


  31. re Carnivale: fantastic first season, the second season needed editing. Bad. Its narrative pace slowed to an absolute crawl.

    On accident my friend and I watched the last episode of season 2 before the penultimate episode. Aside from initial confusion (which we shrugged off, figured it was a jump – all the elements had been set up for the last few episodes), we had no problem. After noticing our mistake we watched the penultimate episode…and only one scene added anything.

    In Battlestar Galactica, Ron Moore has more narrative discipline. I’d love to see a third season of Carnivale…now that he’s learned more about pacing.

  32. Oh, and The Wire is fantastic. The Corner too, if you haven’t seen it.

  33. I should read it online tonight,it’s great and funny.

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