More than any TV series in recent memory, “John from Cincinnati” seemed to be nearly done in by bad buzz long before it premiered.
“Why would HBO think people would want to watch this?” one blog poster opined on AOL’s TV Squad site nearly a month before the show premiered June 10, on the coattails of “The Sopranos’” finale.
“One department has a pool going as to when HBO is going to pull the plug and not complete the season at all,” read a post on the popular TelevisionWithoutPity.com site way back in February. (The author of the missive claimed to be someone who worked on the “John” set.)
Sure, all shows endure a fair amount of post-pickup/pre-premiere drama and “oh boy is it in big trouble” rumor-mongering. But “John” endured a surprising amount of early carping, especially for an HBO skein with a solid pedigree as the creation of revered dramatist David Milch and cult-fave novelist Kem Nunn. Milch took a beating from many fans of his previous HBO creation “Deadwood,” who felt that he and HBO decided to drive a stake in “Deadwood” prematurely in order to free Milch up to work on “John.” (Given the tone of “Deadwood,” Milch surely couldn’t have been surprised when its hard-core fans were quick to express their hostile, profanity-laden revenge fantasies.)
The cast that Milch and Nunn put together last fall and winter for “John” was undeniably strong: Rebecca De Mornay (pictured above left), Bruce Greenwood (pictured right), Ed O’Neill, Matt Winston, Luke Perry, Luis Guzman, Willie Garson, and up and comers Brian Van Holt and Austin Nichols. But when the pilot script started to make the rounds, there was a lot of head scratching.
If “Deadwood” was a surrealistic Western, then “John from Cincinnati” was a psycho surf-themed family drama, as inter-preted via a bad acid trip. The talk was that it was not just unconventional, it was unbound, merely an indulgent exercise in how obtuse (with curse words) two talented writers could be if given the chance. The consensus opinion seemed to be that HBO had come to the crossroads and was at a loss at where to go next after its storied run of success.