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Is a ‘Deadwood’ movie finally going to happen?

Written By | Jul 27, 2017

Saloonkeeper Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) and Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) have another frank and honest exchange of views in an episode of HBO’s Wild West series “Deadwood” (2004-2006). Video-capture image via HBO/”Deadwood” website.

HOLLYWOOD, July 27, 2017 – Long-suffering fans of HBO’s late, lamented but groundbreaking Western series “Deadwood” (2004-2006) may finally be catching a break. Ever since HBO abruptly canceled the series after its third season concluded, many involved in the show would periodically talk up a storm, mostly claiming a “Deadwood” movie was in the works.

But nothing ever happened.

Until – maybe – this week. According to a report in Variety,

“HBO Original Programming chief Casey Bloys told reporters Wednesday that he was impressed by the script delivered a few months ago by series creator David Milch. Bloys said he wanted to ensure that a movie would be accessible to viewers who have not seen the original series…”

Vulture provides additional information and color in its report:

“Speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills today, Bloys said, ‘The one thing I was concerned about is I wanted a script that would stand on its own, that if you were a Deadwood fan, it would make you happy and if you had never watched Deadwood, you would still enjoy it. And I’m happy to say [writer] David [Milch] totally delivered on that.’ He added, ‘I think it’s a terrific script.’

In the years following the original “Deadwood’s” cancellation, Milch, himself had expressed his interest in doing a film that would take the story forward to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the loose ends for its characters and numerous story arcs. But again, nothing happened.

Apparently, however, Milch was struggling to find the right approach toward finishing the epic tale he’d begun. HBO’s original Wild West epic was Milch’s creative take on the founding of Deadwood, a 19th century camp in the Dakota territory that sprang up almost overnight when gold was discovered nearby.

Quickly growing into a rough by decent-sized town, Deadwood’s very existence flouted Washington’s rule of law as well as robbing a substantial chunk of land granted to the area’s Indians by treaty. “Deadwood,” the series, was a bigger-than-life story built on the historical characters that played a major part in Deadwood’s founding and growth, with a few fictional characters thrown in to make things more interesting.

Notable for its highly ornate and almost poetically obscene script as well as its multi-faceted characters, “Deadwood” catapulted both relative newcomer Timothy Olyphant and veteran Scotch-English actor Ian McShane to big-time star status in their respective central roles as hot-headed town sheriff Seth Bullock and scheming but not entirely evil saloon and whorehouse proprietor Al Swearengen.

Today, “Deadwood,” still widely available via streaming video services, has, almost from the very beginning, been regarded by viewers and critics alike as one of the best dramatic series ever created.

At the point of its cancellation, “Deadwood” concluded in the middle of unresolved political complications and stopped short of the epic fire that largely destroyed the town. Deadline infers that Milch’s current movie draft may indeed pick up from this point.

“From non-HBO sources we heard that Milch has [created a] draft that some of the former cast members have read. It was long rumored that Milch’s next iteration of Deadwood would focus on the town burning (which actually happened on Sept. 26, 1879 taking out 300 buildings) and saloon impresario Al Swearengen fleeing by barge.”

In real life, the town was quickly and more permanently rebuilt after the fire, with Seth Bullock returning to build a substantial hotel that rose from the ruins. That hotel still stands in modern Deadwood, renovated and modernized now and accepting guests once again, most of whom, presumably, want to live in a little bit of history.

Even if HBO and series creator David Milch ink a new deal, other difficulties may still get in the way of any new “Deadwood” film. For many years now, most of “Deadwood’s” major characters have expressed a keen, ongoing interest for getting involved in any revival of the story. But currently, funding and the availability of the original series actors may present additional problems getting any proposed film off the ground.

Both Ian McShane – who recently starred in a small yet key role in “Game of Thrones” – and Timothy Olyphant – who won additional post-“Deadwood” kudos for his star turn as Raylan Givens in FX hit series “Justified” and currently stars with Drew Barrymore in Netflix’ just-renewed zombie-comedy series, “Santa Clarita Diet” – may have scheduling conflicts. Other key actors may have similar issues.

But, according to Vulture, HBO’s Casey Boys is still very optimistic about this latest attempt at a “Deadwood” revival.

“‘If we can do it for a budget that makes sense for us and find a director — we’re talking to a few folks — and we can get the cast together, which is no easy task because everybody is kind of all over the place, we’re inclined to do it,’ Bloys said.”

Terry Ponick

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17