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Carnivale: Did HBO Declare Show’s Over?

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I just started watching Carnivale, the HBO show about a ragtag carnival scraping by in the 1930s Depression-era dustbowl days. In fact, I’ve only seen the first two episodes of the first season on DVD as I don’t get the fancy-schmancy cable-type channels.

But what I saw was wondrous: great characters, beautiful and strange depictions of rural Oklahoma and fertile California, and a storyline that had already put its claws around my story-hungry heart. Magic, mayhem, and madness lurked around and within the delightfully oddball characters, from the bearded lady down to the sad and wizened and diminutive ringleader. The first inklings of disastrous and magical events were just starting to take shape, and I rejoiced in knowing that I had latched onto a show that would be on agenda for a longtime to come.

Except not.

Rumors are now swirling that Carnivale has been put out to pasture after its second season on HBO.

From Ain’t It Cool News:

Fans of Carnivale woke up this morning to some very bad news. Beth Blighton, trusted source of Carnycon and she-who-knows-all posted that an “unimpeachable source” had confirmed that Carnivale is being cancelled.

I used to think that the cancellation of quality shows that hadn’t quite found a wide audience was the domain of the broadcast networks. But, sadly, even the mighty HBO, it seems, is making a sacrifice to the mighty Gods of Ratings.

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  • Dave Nalle

    My impression was that the show is over, but the ending of the last episode left the possibility of a continuation very clearly open.

    Carnivale was an awfully good show with a great ensemble cast. I think it outstrips Deadwood in many ways, though that’s also a very good show.

    It sure would be nice to see it back for another season.


  • Eric Berlin

    Apparently, the second season concluded one-third of the overall story arc.

    It’s too bad that we’ll likely never see the completion of the original vison.

  • Janice Druckman

    What a shame to cancel such quality viewing. Although I’ve never seen Carnivale, the way you describe it, I feel as though it is something that I’d enjoy.

  • Brandy

    From what I read a while ago, the person that created the show had the idea of five or six seasons to complete the story. It’s a shame to not see it finished.

  • Eric Berlin

    Yes Brandy, the second season concluded one-third of the overall story arc, as I mention above.

    Definitely a shame.

  • kevin

    My wife and I have never missed an episode, in fact, it’s safe to say that we have watched every episode 2 to 3 times (and loved every minute).

    We will cancel our subscription to HBO upon the official announcement of Carnivale’s cancellation.

  • Felicity

    I do not understand why great shows such as Carnivale never get the recognition it deserves. American television is filled with Deseperate Housewives fluff any intelligent show which requires the viewers to think and go deeper then sex is always the first to go! This is a prime example of why I am such a BBC fan. I refuse to watch American television. For those of you who want to write a letter to the HBO CEO to protest this here is the information.Send a letter to Chris Albrecht, Chairman and CEO, HBO Entertainment, 2500 Broadway, Ste. 400, Santa Monica, CA 90404

  • Eric Berlin

    What’s depressing is that you would think that HBO would be the bastion of the quality show, not subject to the arbitary and insane winds that seem to blow at the other networks… especially Fox.

    Yes, that’s right, I’ll never get over the cancellation of Firefly

  • gonzo marx

    i’m still in the “believe it when you see it” camp..until there is Official word..i ain’t buying it

    last i had heard from HBO…toward the end of the second season…the show was signed

    does anyone have anything Official that i missed?..or is this still in the rumour mill stage?

    oh yeah..luv the show…lots going on here…this and Deadwood are best things on the small screen..IMO


  • Eric Berlin

    I still haven’t seen Deadwood, Gonzo. Looking forward to checking it on DVD.

    Yeah, I believe we’re still in the rumor-stage at this point, but it’s been circulated to the point where it’s worth at least chatting about.

    Hopefully it will be back along with Arrested Development, which also falls squarely into the Don’t You Dare Jerk With My Show category.

  • Juan Rios

    A great Show getting cancelled .The utter disdain HBO must have for it’s suscribers,who pay monthly out of their hard earned money to watch the shows they enjoy,and then to have that show taken away.Carnivale is a great show it’s highly original,and Dan Knauf should be commended for his great series.I heard in The Carnycon site that two of the execs of HBO like the series while one doesn’t,and they still want to cancel, what a travesty.

  • swingingpuss

    I thought the show ended at a brilliant point.. the twist was awesome. The show closed with a phenomenal bang and I for one didnt see it being pushed forward for another season as it no longer held that magic over me.

    On the other hand it can be resurrected like Family Guy…where there are fans there is always hopeful comeback.

  • Eric Berlin

    Thanks for not explaining what the resolution was as I have a while to catch up before I get there!

    It makes sense that a major chapter would close at the end of the second season (look at Big Pussy getting whacked on The Sopranos) and that falls in line with the conclusion of the first 1/3 of the story.

    Wouldn’t you be curious to see what happens over the course of four additional seasons?

  • Dave Nalle

    It’s hard to believe they kept that tired crap Sex in the City on for years beyond where it had become boring, yet they can’t manage even 3 seasons of something as engaging and original as Carnivale.


  • swingingpuss

    I dont want to incur bad karma by spoiling the show for you;)

    If they do extend the show then out of curiosity I might watch the episodes but I didn’t feel the kind of heartwrenching betrayal that I felt when Stephen King initially said that he wouldnt finish the Dark Tower series.

  • Eric Berlin

    I think that Sex and the City was a strong, sexy, and funny show throughout its run.

  • Eric Berlin

    Did Stephen King ever say that he wouldn’t finish The Dark Tower series? I don’t recall that. I do remember him saying from time-to-time that he may not be able to finish it in his lifetime. Weirdly enough, of course, his little run-in and near-death experience with a van on the side of a road in rural Maine prompted him to get his bottom moving on that one.

    I’m still not sure where I stand on his inserting himself and that story into the DT narrative, but I was left quite satisfied by the end of the seventh book.

    I’m still haunted from time-to-time by the image of Roland ascending the stairs at the end of quest…

  • swingingpuss

    Well thats what I mean.. I was kid in school when I heard something to that effect and wanted to personally go and do him bodily harm for being ambiguous.

    I too found the ending haunting and tried to come to terms with it thinking that his journey kept the Tower alive for eternity.

    Alright now people who havent read the book can zink me with curses.

    I’m a motor mouth when it comes to Dark tower series.

  • Eric Berlin

    It’s a great great series. I see it as the Lord of the Rings of my/our generation, even if it won’t be recognized as such for a while, if ever.

    It’s certainly an astounding achievement, at any rate.

    Have you read the revised version of the first book? As soon as I read Book VII, I went back and read the revised version of The Gunslinger for the first time. If you’re as big a fan as you sound, you’ll very much enjoy it.

  • swingingpuss

    Actually I had dropped the series by book 4 as I was disillusioned by his lack of commitment but once he finished the series I decided to read from the beginning and did start with the revised version of the first book.

    One thing I noticed was that his writing style evolved with his books(obviously as it spanned through most of his writing career).

    In the first book he had used too many descriptive terms and bugged me to no end but then by the 7th book I loved his simple, rambling style.

    Jake remains my favourite.

  • Eric Berlin

    Part of the revision process in Book One was to bring it more in line style wise with the rest of the series. It was the subtle substantive changes that really interested me, however. And it really takes reading Book Seven to appreciate them.

    I have a few friends who dropped off from reading the series out of frustration and waiting over the years, and I wage a campaign every now and again to get them back on the path.

    Yeah, Jake is a great character. And Oy, of course.

  • swingingpuss

    lol, Eric maybe you should do a post on the series. I’m just too lazy to do it the grand justice it deserves.

  • Eric Berlin

    I don’t do it nearly justice, but I did talk about the seventh book here, in one of my earliest blog postings (and in my dark pre-BC days!).

  • swingingpuss

    Great post, how about extending it a bit more and putting it up here?

  • Eric Berlin

    Thanks very much… it would be good timing as I believe I had not yet read the revised Gunslinger at the time I wrote it.

  • juan rios

    Carolyn Strauss announced the cancellation of Carnivale,Hopefully Dan Knauf will buy back the show from Hbo and shop it to another network.lots of fans are starting a save Carnivale drive to convince HBO to not cancel or at least let the show go to another network for Carolyn Stauss to say the story has run it’s natural course is insulting to our intelligence as we know that’s not the case.

  • Eric Berlin

    Thanks Juan — do you have a link to that news story?

    I hope it does get saved… seems as though that rarely happens though.

  • SCBlondeMB

    Just to let you know, it is now official!!! Posted in Variety ect…
    The large web based fandom of Carnivale is now trying to save the show.There is a large campaign to encourage fans to cancel HBO services within 48 hours. It has recently been discovered that letters that were sent to HBO president ect have been deleted without being read. Customer service??? Hey its not TV…Now should we look forward to Romy and Michelle on HBO?? Very Cutting edge and groundbreaking.

  • Cerulean

    Carnivale was unique and atmospheric but I found it to be too creepy and too bent on shocking people at all costs. It was like a sophisticated adult set up this world and then a nine year old boy with no feeling or compassion came along and played with the characters like they were ants on an ant farm. There’s a stage some young, typically male writers go through where they feel they HAVE to make bad things happen to their characters because it would be cowardly not to, and that’s what I saw in Carnivale. It can be an extremely harrowing experience for the audience.

    Carnivale WAS unusually evocative and vivid. A lot of trouble with the period detail, chipped enamel cups, and the clothes and such. It was unusual that characters at that rung of society had detailed portrayals of their experiences on TV. Usually such down to earth characters are beneath TV’s notice. The type of things that are allowed to be on TV tend to be limited to stock shows and characters, mostly from our own time. I just couldn’t take the callous exploding of every nerve ending I possessed.

    I LIKE Sex and the City. Dave, it GOT tired for you? You liked it before?

  • Dave Nalle

    No, Cerulean. It was irritating, but original. Then it got irritating and repetitive. Sarah Jessica Parker is abominable.


  • Eric Berlin

    You’re not high on Renee Zellweger or SJ Parker, eh Dave?

    Which women do you think are ahh-ight then?

  • Eric Berlin

    Dave — It’s quite unlike you to not answer a question! I’m guessing you just missed my last comment.

    I’m like about 95-98% sure…

  • rohin

    i want to check this show out. hbo’s originals are always so fascinating. even if i’m not crazy about them (i never did like sex&thecity or sopranos, although i love oz and sfu), the production values are great. i want to get my hands on this show…

  • Eric Berlin

    The Sopranos is just about my favorite show of all time, with The Wire definitely hitting the Top 10 and rising.

    The first season of Six Feet Under was absolutely brilliant, but the second got a bit too dark, too weird, too depressing, too maudlin for my liking. I hope it improves… but I get the sense that it doesn’t in that sense.

  • HW Saxton

    I liked Carnivale for the first few ep’s
    but I agree with Cerulean that they kind
    of overplayed the “let’s be shocking for
    the sake of being shocking” thing a bit
    too much as the show progressed. This is
    same thing that puts me off of much of
    David Lynch’s work. I did like the whole
    nightmarish feel of it and I thought the
    cinematography was top notch in the way
    they captured that element of it.

    The show came across as a combination of
    Ray Bradbury’s: “Something Wicked This
    Way Comes” & the movie:”Nightmare Alley”
    which is an excellent Noir-esque flick
    set amidst the sleaze of a down on it’s
    luck,traveling, depression-era carnival.

    As for “The Soprano’s” that,IMO,is just
    plain great entertainment. It has had a
    few episodes that could’ve been better
    thought out(that lost in the woods with
    the Russian mobster episode comes to my
    mind)but for the most part it is one of
    the best things I’ve actually watched on
    a regular basis for years.

  • Eric Berlin

    I love “The Pine Barrens,” the Russian-lost-in-the-woods ep of The Sopranos, which was actually directed by Steve Buscemi.

    I’ve not yet seen Season Five, but I kind of love that the Russian hasn’t (yet?!) come back into the picture. It was a strange, almost one-off kind of show, but the scenes with Paulie and Christopher were priceless: tense, funny, weird, compelling… pretty much what makes the Sopranos great in every sense.

    One thing that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough is how much of an oddball show The Sopranos really is: weird asides, awkward pauses, use of comedy, and so on.

    Don’t get me started on The Sopranos… I’ve had in the works (in my head) to do a scene-by-scene breakdown of the pilot… what a perfect hour of television.

  • HW Saxton

    Yea verily Eric.”The Sopranos” is much,
    much more complex,funny and surreal than
    people tend to acknowledge.I have been
    stricken with laughing attacks while I’m
    watching situations that should not be
    funny at all. Which always leads to me
    greater contemplation of the situation
    at hand. The Pine Barrens episode was
    kind of frustrating in a couple ways. It
    seemed like too easy of an out for the
    writer to end the episode on for one and
    it also seemed like since there was no
    lack of bad blood building up between
    Tony and his crew & the Russians (thanks
    to sis Janice LOL!)that they could have
    played this up more.Petty gripes,I know.

    I also find it pretty amazing how the
    Fed’s come across as the bigger scumbags
    here and they (the writers)don’t go out
    of their way to make the fed’s look that
    bad.They’re not portrayed as corrupt,no
    trumping up of charges,etc.Yet they come
    off as totally and wholly dislikable.
    Television is so emotionally fascistic!

    I’d really like to see an objective and
    well thought out breakdown of the show
    done by someone here at BC. As you have
    pointed out and to which I totally agree
    there is much more going on than just a
    bunch of killing,tough talk & all of the
    usual stuff associated with Gangsta’s.

  • Eric Berlin

    HW — I think I could write solely about The Sopranos and not get tired of it! Have you read any of Slate’s week-to-week features on the show (one season psychogists rapping back and forth, and one was mob attorneys/journalists)? It’s brilliant.

    I love how unlikeable the FBI comes across, and not because of corruption, etc. We see them as annoyances and far-off threats because we see them through Tony’s (and fam) eyes. Far bigger threats are the day-to-day of mob operations… or perhaps even Janice.

    Speaking of, has there ever been a more frustrating, hilarious, psychotic, catalyzing character than Janice, ever? Man, she’s great… and has really picked up the slack for Mama’s unfortunate real life demise.

    Mama (Marchand) was incredible too. Man, they all are though.

  • HW Saxton

    Eric B., I’ve never even heard of the
    Slate website? I’ll read just about any
    news/analysis/updates,etc regarding “The
    Soprano’s”. Have you got an address for
    that handy?

    Janice IS totally vexating I must agree.
    You just KNEW she was trouble from the
    get go. And Mama S. was great. It was so
    sad about her real life demise.At least,
    she went out on top so to speak.I think
    that Uncle Junior might be my favorite
    character out of the whole bunch & that
    is saying a mouthful since everyone that
    is on the show is top notch.

  • Eric Berlin

    Yeah, they’re all my favorites too, but Uncle Junior is great — fantastic one-liners and delivery. It’s great to go back to the early episodes and see his devolution from acting mob boss to house-ridden crank.

    Slate: I would head there and do a search for The Sopranos. It’s a great webzine, one I check at least five times a week.

  • Rob Seitelman

    I think that the bottom line was budget. Carnivale is a great series in my opinion, but did not generate the numbers to justify its high cost, I could be wrong, but I believe somewhere around $50 million a season. Sex and the City, Sopranos, Oz, and Six Feet Under generate similar numbers or better at less cost. Also heard that Dan Knauf signed on to do a series at Showtime, which might have upset people at HBO.

  • Eric Berlin

    I’m still winding my way through Season One, and I can tell that Carnivale is a top notch production. It looks like a film portraying a strange and dusty world. I just saw the episode — called “Babylon,” I believe — and man, was I blown away by it! Great guest starring role by John Hannah, who I will watch in absolutely anything, I think.

  • Shellbug526

    I love this show, I was heartbroken they cancelled it. People have a petition to save it up. They are up to like 7500 people. Do things like that ever work?

  • Eric Berlin

    I think they do sometimes, rarely perhaps. Firefly managed to make the journey to feature film with Serenity, for example.

    I just finished the first season of Carnivale, and what a wonderful and strange spectacle it was. Sophie’s revenge hit me completely by surprise — great. And Lodz and Ben and “Management”… there’s so much to build upon. Horrific that it was to go after Season Two.

  • Phillip Winn

    What matters far more than petitions is DVD sales. Sell enough DVDs and your show might even picked up after a several-year hiatus, like Family Guy.

  • jeff

    As a radio exectuive in charge of canceling shows, I can say for sure that email and letter-writing campaigns do not work. Ever.

  • Phillip Winn

    Except, of course, for when they do — which they have.

    Rarely, but it has happened, which means that they won’t stop.

  • Eric Berlin

    Phillip’s right — they do work every now and then. It’s been seen, for instance, that a fan campaign brought Angel back for its fifth season. (Unfortunately, it was cancelled after that great season, but that’s a different story).

    There are other benefits to an upswell of fan support: high DVD sales helped to turn Firefly from a highly praised, little seen show into Serenity, which will hit theaters this Fall.

  • bb_matt

    The first series was excellent – pure brilliance.

    Sadly, the second series started going wrong halfway through.

    As much as I’m a hopeless fan of such compelling viewing, I’m also honest to myself.

    I’m not sure what happened, but from the first episode of the second series some of the magic started to eek away.

    Some of the episiodes were as good as the first series prior to series two, episode six, but that’s about it.

    I’m now wading through episode 10, wondering how something so good could’ve gone so wrong.

    All I can say is, if another series will one day be made, bring back the original crew behind the first series, otherwise do as the networks are doing now – kill it off.

  • nikk

    Excellent show. Hope it will be back. I signed the online petition.

  • Ben Hawkins

    I loved the first season and due to personal matters, I was unable to watch the second season during it’s regular run. My wife and I watched the entire second season on VOD through our cable provider over the past several weekends. We never would have wasted our time had we of known it was going to end the way it did. I do not want to give away anything in case some have not seen it all of the second season, but WHY would they end a show like that???? So many of my predictions of who will be with this one and that one went straight out the window…. I guess that is what some call “Great T.V.”, but I for one am still very aggravated. Just thought I would give my two cents.

  • Eric Berlin

    Nikk – Do you have the link to the online petition ?

  • yours truly

    I’m so very upset about all this. I’m tired of the shows that I enjoy being cancelled. It’s just not fair. Please, if anyone know of anything I can do to try and bring it back, please let me know.


  • Smith

    I was told that HBO might have an issue paying higher salaries do to the obvious future sucess of the show. HBO maintaines a low level of Actor pay. In Florida Canivale had an intense cult like following I have not seen since Rocky Horror. I am still in aghast that they dare not continue the story. Most of those in my circle have contacted HBO and Brighthouse and complained. We have even e-mailed other Cable and Satelite companies and got the same response from all. No specific reason, just cancelled. Sorry.

  • Eric Berlin

    Carnivale obviously has a passsionate fan base, just based upon the response to this column alone.

    I suspect it was probably a budget versus ratings scenario, unfortunately. They likely had Rome in the pipeline, which has to be a very expensive pipeline, and the very popular Deadwood to deal with at the same time.

    It’s unfortunate… that said, HBO continues to pump out superior programming.

  • http://november262005 laura

    I cannot understand why one of the best shows on hbo is not going to go another few episodes. The show left you hanging with ben and the preacher, and sophie. I love carnivale.

  • laura

    I am just hoping they are saying this to maybe give all of the carnivale lovers more anticipation. Not that it is needed from where I am sitting. I am very sad.

  • fee

    I can’t wait for Deadwood. It is one of the best shows out there since Oz. I can never get enough of Sweringers (forgot how to spell it) saying f#$@ing coc#sucker!!!!!

  • Sterling Lombard

    I love the carnivale series. I’m almost through the 2nd season. I thought I read on here that someone thinks that Stephen king did not finish the Dark Tower Series. I have good news! Stephen King finished the Series at Book 7 “The Dark Tower.” You may or may no like the ending. Personally, I think that it ended the way that it was supposed to end. Anyway Stephen King’s last Dark Tower book was written in 2004.

  • Horhe

    Hi to all you out there
    I see the show on dvd
    and have seen the 9 episodes of the 1st season.
    I have some questions
    Ben Hawkins is the Good and brother Justin is the Evil?
    and Who is the managment?

    I hope that you will answer !!!

  • Sandra

    didn’t really see management alot, just remember he was behind a curtain in one of the small wagons they travelled in. He was evil. And it seemed he was on Justin’s side. Justin is evil, and Ben was the Good.

  • Sandra

    I loved Carnivale so much, and Yes, it did hurt when it was cancelled. I still have a feeling of incompletion. It makes me go to the site now and again just to look.

  • Sandra

    Oh yeah,

    Management seems to have some kind of powers. He made one of the carnies kill himself. I guess with just using his mind.

  • ladymamolade

    I think that it would be great if they finished off the show with a Carnivale movie. Since Sex in the City has one, Carnivale would be even smarter. It would boost dvd sales and those who never heard of it would go see it. More importantly we would see the ending to the vision.

  • Damfino

    I just watched both seasons for the first time, and I can’t believe HBO was dumb enough to cancel it. I feel betrayed and I wasn’t even one of the original fans who was shelling out good money every month to HBO to watch it. I love how cost is an issue, yet they filmed ‘Rome’ IN Rome. I’ll bet that was cheap *rolling eyes*. My decision to never subscribe to HBO is justified by their idiocy, I suppose. Because they’ve proven to me they’re nothing more than an overpriced Fox.