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USA’s ‘Damnation’ Offers Unique Take on Westerns

Damnation, a drama that debuts on USA Network Nov. 7, marries two passions of its creator, Tony Tost. Tost “grew up a huge fan of westerns,” he said, and has also long been enamored of the 1930s, in terms of music and literature. Many westerns he watched growing up were set in the late 1800s, so he decided to place Damnation, about the “bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden, God and greed, charlatans, and prophets,” according to USA, in the ‘30s.

“It’s a decade that American television has not done lots of work in,” he said.

And while Depression-era stories are often set in cities — “it’s usually fedoras and Tommy guns,” said Tost — Damnation takes place in the heartland, with a man masquerading as a small-town preacher aiming to start an insurrection. Tost cites John Steinbeck as an influence.

Formerly of Longmire, Tost said several of Damnation’s themes are relevant today, including “the fundamental issue about what it means to be American,” and “who gets to call themselves American.”

Netflix co-produces Damnation with Universal Cable Productions, and has first-run rights outside the U.S. “That can only help expand the number of people who can access the show,” said Tost.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.