Despite being among the most remarkable and ambitious shows in TV history, HBO unceremoniously canceled Deadwood after just three seasons. In 2019 13 years later the show finally returned with a wrap-up film. So just why did HBO get rid of Deadwood in the first place?
The business of making television is somewhat separate from the business of broadcasting it. While many networks are part of entertainment conglomerates that also include production companies, the studios that make TV shows can shop a series around to different networks, which then pay a hefty licensing fee for the right to air it. Studios may also team up to make shows, particularly expensive ones like Deadwood.
HBO is a division of Warner Media, and the network co-produced the show with Paramount, which held the international rights. That necessitated a lot of talks and contracts between Warner and Paramount over splitting the profits from Deadwood. Those companies reached an impasse about their arrangement before a fourth season of Deadwood could go into production, and so both parties walked away from the table, in effect canceling the show.
That may not be as exciting as a standoff in the thoroughfare, but it's the reality.
Then-HBO chief executive and chairman Chris Albrecht told the Chicago Tribune,
"Not having a fourth season of Deadwood is not the result anyone wanted."
By that time, the possibility had disappeared like a dead miner's body into Mr. Wu's pigpen. But the network really did fight to keep Deadwood alive.
HBO wanted creator David Milch to concentrate his efforts on his next show for the network, the surreal, spiritual and short-lived surfing drama John from Cincinnati, so executives offered him a six-episode final season of Deadwood, as opposed to the traditional 12. He turned it down.
Then, just days before Deadwood's third and final season premiered in 2006, HBO announced that those episodes would not be the end of the line, as the network had accepted Milch's pitch to wrap up the series with a pair of two-hour specials.
Those two specials ended up as just one movie, released 13 years later. Keep watching to learn the real reason they canceled Deadwood!
Corporate fighting | 0:19
No "special" agreement | 1:14
No further option | 2:24
Too many viewers fled | 3:26
Costly chaos | 4:16
It's not HBO, it's Deadwood | 5:33
It was time to go | 6:36