TCA: HBO Executives: Deadwood Movies Have a 50/50 Shot

Will HBO’s planned Deadwood movies ever come to pass? With show creator David Milch tired from his current HBO show and Deadwood’s actors off doing other things, executives say the chances are just 50/50.

“Look, it’s always been our intention to do them, but it’s complicated,” said Michael Lombardo, President of HBO’s Programming Group and West Coast Operations, at a presentation to television critics in LA today. “It’s doable, it will just be daunting. If David’s game for this and we can figure it out, we’re going to figure it out.”

When plans for a fourth season of the show caved last year, HBO and Milch said they would make two, two-hour films to finish the storylines. But since then, those plans have seemed up in the air with Milch busy on his current series John From Cincinnati and HBO executives reportedly saying the movies wouldn’t run until 2008 at the earliest.

Now, top HBO executives say while they have spoken with Milch about the movies as recently as yesterday, but have not gotten close to discussing scheduling. With actors not still contractually obligated to appear in the series, executives said coordinating the movies could be difficult.

Lombardo said if the network picked up John for a second season after it ends its first run later this summer, Milch would have to go directly into producing the Deadwood films. Asked why Milch wouldn’t be privy to the long sojourns the network had granted to Sopranos creator David Chase between seasons, Lombardo said such lengthy breaks weren’t conducive to keeping viewers.

“The truth of the matter is the notion of waiting a year and a half between shows, I think we’ve discovered, is not exactly ideal for the viewer,” he said. “It’s not preferable to us and I think viewers have expressed that to us. But look, we’re in business with David Milch. We expect to be in business with David Milch for the foreseeable future, so trust me, if it’s going to get done, we’re going to get it done.”

Pressed by several critics to do so, HBO Co-President Richard Plepler went a step further and put the chances of HBO making the movies at 50/50. He said he had spoken with Milch yesterday and characterized his state as “exhausted.”

John has been a disappointment to HBO in the ratings, although it has improved recently and HBO executives say they will not decide until this season ends its run whether they will bring it back.

As for the network’s overall programming philosophy, they say things have not changed despite a huge management shakeup earlier this year that saw the ouster of longtime network chief Chris Albrecht. In his stead, the network elevated four top corporate officers from within its ranks of longtime senior staffers.

“I don’t think you’ll see, or hopefully you won’t feel, and I don’t think there’s an intent to have a strategic shift,” Lombardo said, after noting that the network had spent more than ever on producing new series last year and expects to do so again this year.

He said he and other executives speak often to Albrecht often and characterized the leadership transition as “very difficult.”

“It feels like we’re just continuing to do the work we’ve been doing, so, you know, I don’t see a pause on a professional level,” he said. “Personally, I miss him, I miss seeing him in the office every day.”

In addition to slating buzzed-about upcoming new series including Tell Me You Love Me, 12 Miles of Bad Road and In Treatment, HBO announced today that it has greenlighted a new comedy series from the stars of the BBC’s hit Little Britain, as well as a sixth season of Real Time With Bill Maher and scheduled first quarter, 2008 for a new season of The Wire.

The network also said it will end its Ricky Gervais comedy series Extras after two six-episode seasons with an hour-long special that will shoot in August. Executives said they were in negotiations with Gervais to do a standup comedy special next year.

“Truthfully, there’s nothing that will ever top The Sopranos,” said Plepler in response to a question about the network’s future without the series. “The question is, do we continue to put excellent programming on our network across a wide variety of genres so that our 30 million customers think they have something worth paying for…the best is yet to come.”