I asked him the big question Deadwood fans have been wanting to know for a while now -- was HBO just blowing smoke with its promise to wrap up the series with a couple of made-for-TV movies? Well, the answer is yes, McShane revealed to us. "I just got a call on Friday from ... a dear friend of mine, who told me that they're packing up the ranch," McShane said. "They're dismantling the ranch and taking the stuff out. That ship is gonna sail. Bonsoir, Deadwood." He went on to say that even if the movies were happening, there would be the strike to consider, and on top of that, he's committed to a filming schedule that would prevent him from doing them anytime before late next year anyway.(Link via)
I've been thinking for a while about the Deadwood situation as compared to the fates of shows like Veronica Mars, Jericho, Farscape, Futurama, and other series that have been brought back from the brink of death or beyond it by concentrated fan effort. Fine and well-loved as it was, Deadwood never had a fandom. Neither, I suspect, do most HBO shows. I think series like Deadwood and The Sopranos are beloved primarily by people who enjoy watching the series but don't necessarily see the appeal (and perhaps are not even aware of the existence) of fannish activities--critical analysis, episode reviews, parodies, filks, fanart, fanfic. It is these activities, however, and through them the fostering of a community and of a sense of ownership over the series, that create fandoms capable of affecting the nature and fate of their favorite series, and sometimes of forestalling their executions.
I don't know what would have happened if HBO's offices had been flooded with shipments of, say, canned peaches. For one thing, HBO has a very different business model than advertiser-supported networks. More importantly, I suspect the fannish phenomenon would have been so alien to the channel's officers that they wouldn't have known how, or even whether, to react to it. When the Sci Fi Channel cancelled the long-running Stargate: SG-1 halfway through a projected two-season storyline, they met with irate reactions from fans and promptly greenlit two TV movies with which to resolve that plot--movies which are currently in production. HBO similarly promised to resolve the Deadwood story with TV movies, but now it appears to be reneging on its promise, or at the very least delaying production indefinitely, without any awareness of the effect that such behavior might have on fan loyalty towards their other shows (I've more than once come across the argument that the failure of John From Cincinnati came about at least in part because aggravated Deadwood fans stayed away from David Milch's new show in droves).
These differing reactions are rooted, I suspect, in the two channels' respective awareness of the importance and power of fandom, and in the absence of such a fandom when it comes to HBO shows (consider, for example, the fate of Carnivale, which despite its fannish appeal was led away to the chopping block with nary a sign of a save-our-show campaign). The question now becomes, is HBO about to learn a bitter lesson about the importance of fostering viewer loyalty, or is their customer base willing, yet again, to take this kind of treatment lying down?