Cinemax preceded its Thursday (July 10) Television Critics Association press tour panel for the 1900 NYC medical drama "The Knick" by announcing that it has already renewed the series, which won't premiere until August 8.
The 10-episode renewal wasn't a huge shock, because "The Knick" is a very important series for Cinemax as it continues its transition from Skinemax to the fun action-fueled destination for shows like "Strike Back" and "Banshee" to the kind of network capable of luring talent like director Steven Soderbergh and star Clive Owen.
The fact is that as long as Owen and Soderbergh were willing to be involved in a second season, a renewal was inevitable and it sounds like the not-particularly-retired Oscar winner is, indeed, eager to continue.
"Yeah. I’m going to do all ten," Soderbergh said on the panel, responding to a question about the recent trend of TV directors taking extended duty on shows, rather than dropping in for an episode or two. "And it’s not I think obviously you are seeing a trend now of if not fewer directors doing a series, a sense that there’s a positive aspect to having a visual language that is very, very specific and very, very unified throughout the show. In this case, you know, it’s not only creatively satisfying, but it’s also, practically speaking, a much better way to work in terms of the economics, because we basically scheduled the whole season like a film and shot it and budgeted and boarded it like a film, which is a very efficient way to work."
Soderbergh also responded to inevitable questions about those reports of retirement, which initially seemed like they might extended to all filmed media, but now may only extend to movies.
He explained, "Eleven months ago I did not think I would be sitting here talking about ten hours of material that is behind us and ten hours in front of us, but I had a very similar reaction to the one Clive had when I read the first script, and I knew that as the first person who got to take a look at it, if I didn’t say yes that the second person who was going to see it would say yes, and you know, my whole life I’ve moved in any direction that I felt was going to excite me and engage me, and it was it’s sort of unfortunate that people have to keep listening to me explain why I went back to work, but I’m glad I did."
Actually, the questions weren't totally inevitable. Prior to the panel, I had a 45+ minute sit-down with Soderbergh and Owen and while we discussed plenty of frivolous things -- Owen's mustache, Soderbergh's distrust of the Internet -- we didn't talk at all about retirement. We did, however, discuss the harsh medical realities of 1900, the cross-platform media innovation of Owen's "The Hire" and the grind of shooting five two-hour movies for Cinemax. I'll have that full interview up as we get closer to the premiere of "The Knick." It's a good one.
Having done that interview, the only question I asked during the panel was for creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler.
"The Knick" is rich in historical detail, full of macabre humor and layered with dark contemporary resonance. It's also very, very, very different from the bulk of Amiel and Begler's credits, which start with episodes of "Herman's Head" and "Empty Nest" and extend to features including "The Prince and Me," "Raising Helen" and "The Shaggy Dog."
I was curious about the clearly successful career they'd built for themselves and whether "The Knick" really was an outlier in their interests, or whether this was a true representation of their sensibilities that they'd been holding down over the years.
"Well, yes, our credits are middling, if you will, at times," Amiel laughed. "We started at sitcom, and we went where the work was when we were young, and sitcom, for us, was an extraordinarily good training ground. You have to write under pressure. You have no time to dawdle. You have to solve problems. And so we were very happy to have had that career. Then when we switched to film, it really was a natural outgrowth of the type of sitcoms we had been doing. So we did family comedies and comedies and romantic comedies, and you know, we’ve never not worked. We never worked sometimes at the level we wanted to, but we were always being offered jobs and always fulfilling what people had asked of us, and I feel like that was all training to get us to this point. We had written dark stuff. We had written a serial killer movie that didn’t go at Sony, and every time we had written something that we said, 'No one’s ever going to make this. It’s too dark. It’s too this. It’s too that,' it’s really helped our career. It happened with the spec we did years ago. So this was just another attempt at writing something to stretch yourself, to scare yourself, to move into another area."
Begler added, "I think we’ve been working for 20 some odd years, and it took those 20 years to realize that maybe this is what we should have been doing all along, and, I mean, we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out."
I suspect viewers are going to have plenty to talk about when it comes to "The Knick" and the fast renewal may encourage audiences to tune in on August 8.
I'll be posting my Soderbergh/Owen interview as the premiere approaches.