Venn Diagram: Why Deadwood was Cancelled by HBO

My latest TV project has been catching up on the critically acclaimed Deadwood from HBO. The show’s creator, David Milch, is back in the news because he’s returned to HBO with a new series, LuckDeadwood aired from 2004 to 2006, good for three seasons of material. After two more episodes, I will have seen the entire series. It was cut short, cancelled before its time was up without any real resolution. It’s quite a shame, because it’s been a really good show. Milch did a great deal of research to find out the actual facts of Deadwood, South Dakota circa 1877. And this painstaking research helped him bring larger-than-life characters like “Wild Bill” Hickok, “Calamity Jane” Cannary, the Earp brothers, and Al Swearengen most of all to life. The biggest reason it earned so much critical acclaim was the show’s dialogue. Milch and his writers imported Shakespearean language and devices into the American Wild West. But it was all sandwiched around some of the most delightfully vulgar language you’ll ever hear on a TV show. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. But the more I’ve watched it, the more it’s become woefully obvious why HBO cancelled it after just three seasons. I think it can best be described using a Venn diagram:

I should probably clarify here that they don’t technically employ iambic pentameter. But there are tons of soliloquies, and everything about the show carries the air of Shakespeare.


Filed under Humor, TV Shows

63 responses to “Venn Diagram: Why Deadwood was Cancelled by HBO

  1. I’ve been dying to watch Deadwood for years. It’s the whole lack-of-resolution thing that worries me — why get invested if there’s no ending closure?

    • ‘Tis better to have loved whores, booze, and guns and lost than never to have loved at all. Or something.

    • TinchoX

      TRUE. Same here. I finally decided to take the risk and no regrets, the journey worth it. One of the best series ever made no doubt at all.

    • Lon

      It doesn’t leave you hanging AT ALL. The director must have known it might be over so he left absolutely NOTHING more for viewers to be hanging on story wise. As fans did we want more? Absolutely. But the story in Season 3 basically sums it all up and there is an ending. NOTHING leaves you “hanging” in the last season of Deadwood like other series mostly do.

    • Sarah

      Even without a conclusion, this show was a work of art, and entertaining as hell. Just imagine how it would end, or now there’s a movie coming out that I’ll probably ruin everything.

    • Susan Ostler

      Because what was there was undeniably the best acting and story lines on TV at the time. So many really fantastic relationships of characters mixed with history. The language was very rough for that day and time but that was part of the charm.

  2. Loved the Venn Diagram. Yep, I’m in that small sliver that enjoyed both things. I was so upset to see that show go.

    • I just wrapped it up and I’m annoyed. Those characters deserved more than that. A movie, one more season… anything to finish it off right.

    • I don’t believe it’s a “small sliver” that enjoyed both aspects of “Deadwood” . I think most people were intrigued and many watched the show and wanted more. The quality of the writing and acting and even the story lines were the best in many, many years.

  3. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I’m still pissed about HBO cancelling Carnivale and Rome as well and keeping Entourage for 5 or 6 seasons. HBO does a lot of great shows that are often too good for the majority of viewers, and unfortunately they are still driven by ratings. The Sopranos was that rare show that was excellent and appealed to the masses.

    • I enjoyed Entourage on a very basic level, but you’re dead-on. If I had a choice of more Rome, Carnivale, or Deadwood instead of any of those Entourage seasons, I’d make that trade in a heartbeat.

      They’ve got a great new batch right now with Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and (possibly) Luck. I’m hoping they learned their damn lesson after canceling those three other great shows. Game of Thrones, especially, seems exactly like the kind of show that might not make it out alive in the old HBO. And that’d be a shame, because it’s pretty damned good.

  4. Tennessean-Historian-Blogger

    As a historian of the American West, I was fascinated by Deadwood for its gritty reality. Life was tough in the infant days of the real Deadwood, and this show reflected that. Although, I many of people I know didn’t watch it because they could not follow the dialogue. It’s unfortunate because in the end we all lost.

    • I’m glad you brought it up, because one of my favorite parts of the show when I was watching the first season was digging up the facts. I wanted to see which of these characters were real, how it actually played out for them, and the like. I love that Milch was so true to the history.

    • I found that one way to follow the dialogue was to use subtitles. You could Press “pause” at any time and read the dialogue again, and at your own pace. It was worth the time to re-read sections of speech not clear because of the elaborate way of speaking, which was actually used at that time.

    • Nicki

      I had a little frustration w the lovely dialogue as well. I like to paint while I “watch” shows and this one was incredibly tough to multitask while watching. I couldn’t understand what was happening unless i watched intently and concentrated. hhahahaha

  5. This is a series I can watch and rewatch in rapid succession. The dialogue keeps me coming back — the humor is flawless and the acting is stellar. For those who haven’t seen it and worry about a lack of resolution … it’s not really an abrupt ending or anything. Not frustrating (like the end of Carnivale was), just a little more calm and peaceful than we might have expected from the show had it been allowed to end on its own terms. Well worth the time, and I’ll be watching it yet again, if I can ever get my DVDs back from my son and his wife. 🙂

    • I reaaally wish they’d been allowed to keep going. Once Hearst showed up, it made me like the show that much more. He was a spectacular villain for that show.

  6. Phil

    Woo! I’m in the target market! I didn’t like season 2 as much as 1, since it got cut off, I never watched s3. I’m thinking about renting Justified, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to another series.

  7. It took me awhile to really get into Deadwood, and that is 100% because of the language. But once I got the rhythm of the dialogue, I started to enjoy the show. The plot didn’t matter so much to me. It was more about the characters. Dan, Al, and Sheriff Bullock were fantastic! And then there’s Wu, the Doc, and numerous other characters. While it wasn’t my favorite HBO show, it was still very good and definitely cut short. Your diagram is probably right on the money as to why the show was dumped by HBO. Nicely done!

  8. Darah

    I still miss Firefly.
    No love for that series?

  9. Rebecca

    Have you read Shakespeare? He’s as raunchy as they come.

  10. Haha. If only that were the true reason why…

    It’s been awhile since I last rewatched this. I think it’s about time.

  11. neocowboy

    I loved the Deadwood series and whilst it was sadly cut short it only takes a small internet search to research the real town of Deadwood discover the ultimate fate of the town and its key inhabitants.

    In fact having the historical resolution and allowing your mind to fill in the gaps alone is possibly more gratifying than anything HBO could invent.

    Deadwood was burned to the ground not once, but twice and the series is littered with foreboding allusions to this eventual fate.

  12. Agree with most of these comments – HBO castrates as much as it produces – Carnivale, like DW was breathtaking for atmosphere, dialogue and rich characters and woefully treated

    I don’t agree with the Season 2 comments though – I actually thought it was the best season – I sent an SMS to my son today in response to one he sent me moaning his current lot in life – my text suggested that he rewatch Season 2 DW for some perspective. Having said that I love the relationship between Jane & Joanie in S3 but found it overall less subtle than the intra-politics of the townsfolk that S1 & S2 handled so well.

  13. alchimerical

    I thought Al Swearengen gave his best monologues while getting head.

  14. rixpix

    When HBO cancelled Deadwood I cancelled HBO!!!

  15. Jim

    Deadwood was simply the best written, acted and filmed show to ever hit the airways. It is untouchable and anyone who didn’t get the dialog can watch Jersey Shore or any of the other crap that runs for morons.

  16. Michael

    Deadwood is hands down the best TV show, all the way round, that I have ever had the privileged to watch. I have watched the series in its entirety at least 5-6 times. Amazing story, great characters, amazing acting, some of the best dialogue that has ever graced a TV screen, great set design, great music and editing. TV shows simply don’t get any better than this. This is what you get when everything comes together perfectly. This show didn’t have a single weakness. Who knows, with the Veronica Mars movie redefining Kickstarter, yet again, maybe a Deadwood film is still possible.

    One thing is for sure and that is that I will never subscribe to HBO ever again. They make these drama’s that they know are going to be expensive and they turn around and wind up cancelling them because they are too expensive. Doesn’t make a lick of sense. I cancelled my subscription to HBO when they first cancelled the show and until they rectify this situation, with the 2 feature length episodes they told us were coming….well, HBO will continue to be absent from my cable plan.

    • Yes. I agree with you completely. Most of the actors are not so old they couldn’t do two movies that we were promised. HBO has no respect for its audience. They do what is profitable for them and the heck with the viewers. If the viewers like the show, too bad. Well, I cancelled HBO for good as did many others.

  17. Doc

    When it comes to watching Deadwood, every time is as good or better than the first time. Finest series ever created. Thank you Mr. Milch…please come again. If I only had the 5 million, I’d fund the resolution myself…seriously. Fellow fans, two ideas…a Deadwood Kickstarter project, or a “Bring Back Deadwood” HBO boycott? Just sayin’

  18. roger bonnici

    HBO’s Deadwood, Was equivalent to when I first saw “The Godfather” Back in 1972.

    Wish they had finished it.

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  20. Louis

    Just watched this all over again, and again I am sadden it was never finished. If I had the funding I would so front it. Please finish this HBO. Please

    • Dana Hyder

      DW is hands down the best tv western series ever. My gripe is seth’s family coming to town. Unless they were real they slowed down the relationship between seth and alma. Maybe milch could write a series with the same foundation but create fictional characters. With his talent I’m sure they would come to life. That way he could go in any direction he choose.

  21. Gillian Hunter

    I just finished watching deadwoood great would love to see a proper ending

  22. ball

    Just finished watching Deadwood. My husband and I want the “cocksuckas” to create a fourth season or create a Deadwood movie … Heng dai!

  23. Woo

    It was actually cancelled because of a royalties squabble between HBO and Paramount, as I understand it; plus some network brass being canned/hired.. Ironic that what killed the best show on TV is both the subject matter of said show and what’s killed our economy now: unrestrained, naked, capitalistic greed & corporate stupidity.

  24. Mike Kessler

    Having been a fan of Westerns dating back to Hopalong Cassidy and Lash LaRue I was convinced the genre had totally played out until I watched the first episode of Deadwood which captivated me — as this shamefully underrated work of high art continues to do. I so agree with Woo’s insightful criticism of HBOs “unrestrained, naked, capitalistic greed & corporate stupidity” for pulling the plug on this brilliantly conceived and executed break from the painfully droll monotony of standard television fare.

    Deadwood added color and sound along with a strangely tactile effect to what has become a bland and lifeless continuum of increasingly less entertaining entertainment. But they killed it.


  25. Jessie

    Great show. I started talking like they did.

  26. Wait a minute….It’s HBO….Which should include all people who likes coarse language. The diagram does’nt work for me.

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  29. Jim

    Love this series..Best one ever, so sad it ended and ended with no reasonable closure..One great historical but , truthful representation of life in a real western town in early America…Much praise for David Milch….

  30. We loved Deadwood. My sweet wife who never says a bad thing about anyone was calling people cocksuckers behind their backs for months afterward. Good times…

  31. smitty

    Wish they would bring it back,give me a reason to keep HBO, after game of thrones, they should have a show thats not just for far left liberals, and the induction of the earps in the story would be great.

  32. James

    i don’t think anyone talked that foul back in the old west or any where even now for that matter, im glad the cocksuckers mutherfuckers and everything else was toned down slightly in the 3rd season. i say plenty of bad shit but it was a bit ridiculous and off putting at first that they said cocksucker more in the first 20 minutes than i believe i had heard in my whole life previous. im sure it would have boosted viewers had they even cut the language down by half. if you have any morals at all you wouldn’t watch the show if there’s a chance a young kid can hear it and it left hardly any option for anyone else to possibly pick them up like they’re doing now with shows on netflix, amazon or where ever. that being said i binge watched the whole 3 seasons in about 3 days because otherwise the actors were great and story hardly got dull. i’ve had to watch everything i say since then though because i’ve nearly cussed out several people when i was irritated and started to call them cocksucker motherfucker and anything else that popped in my head

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