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'Entourage' Return Crucial for HBO

Are we going to be OK? That's the big question established quickly in the upcoming fifth season of the Emmy-winning HBO comedy Entourage, as the central movie star character Vincent Chase and his dependents try to recover from their misfire film Medellin. But as the show returns Sept. 7, that question surrounds both it and its network, as well as the television industry in general.

In the year since Entourage was in originals, a lot has happened at HBO. Despite several attempts, no new HBO series have drawn more than cult followings. This has left Entourage holding the mantle as HBO's highest-rated series on a network that once enjoyed the simultaneous brand-burnishing successes of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under.

In addition, the WGA strike delayed production on Entourage like so many other TV programs, and an entirely new regime was installed at HBO. Not to mention the economy slipped into a full-blown recession.

Despite ongoing speculation, HBO's distribution executives have not yet taken Entourage out to the syndication market, although by the end of this season, nearly 70 episodes of Entourage will be in the can. Since syndie sales are best timed to hot irons, a new season of Entourage that connects with viewers would go a long way toward securing a rich run for its repeats and restoring some luster at HBO.

Creator Doug Ellin maintained that he is unfazed by any pressure to perform on behalf of HBO when he spoke last week with B&C
Executive Editor Melissa Grego about the season premiere. However, he did explain why he believes Entourage will be more than OK.

Entourage is up for five Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series. How about that?

Yes, it was unexpected. Some people thought the show lost its way last season, and not to defend it, I thought it was our weakest season. But this season I think we have our best season.

Why is this season the best?

I just think it all came together. Last year we had a little trouble keeping it together. I think the through-line arc works better this year. There are great cameos, we got [Executive Producer and Entourage muse] Mark Wahlberg back. We shot with Phil Mickelson, Tony Bennett, and we have a lot of great directors on the show.

You wrote three of the first four episodes. Do you usually write that much?

I usually write the first two and the last one. Over the years, a lot of rewriting goes into the process. This year we have three writers on actual scripts [Ellin, Rob Weiss and Ally Musika]. I wrote 60%-70% this year. I wanted to start it off and say this is where we are going.

HBO has been criticized for not coming up with other standouts like Entourage, and folks are eagerly awaiting entries from the new executives. What do you make of that?

That doesn't matter to me at all. I feel less pressure. I felt last season was our weakest season and we were successful. Anything with HBO has nothing to do with me; they don't put that on us, we just do our thing. I feel great to be there; no matter what people say about them, I think it's the best place for us to be.

How did the WGA work stoppage impact Entourage and its production and premiere schedule?

Basically we lost two episodes. We didn't have time to get the 14 done we initially set out to do. I had a storyline that was going to deal with the writers' strike to air in June, when were going to start airing. It just hurt us. We were supposed to be on in June, now we'll be on in September. If there are no other strikes, hopefully we'll be back on track for next summer.