Inside Move: Is ‘Deadwood’ riding off into the sunset?

Has HBO's oater reached the end of its rope?

Has “Deadwood” hit a dead end?

HBO confirmed Thursday afternoon that it had let lapse the options on the cast of the grisly Western. Decision frees the actors of any further obligation to the show, which has yet to be renewed for a fourth season.

Terms of the contracts had been set to expire before the third-season premiere on June 11.

Meanwhile, insiders say “Deadwood” creator-exec producer David Milch has turned his attentions to his second HBO series, “John From Cincinnati” (Daily Variety, May 10), a “surf noir” one-hour being written in collaboration with author Kem Nunn. Network is said to be finalizing the deal to move “John” into production on the pilot, pending casting and budget.

HBO insisted that conversations about future cycles of “Deadwood” are ongoing, and Milch told the Boston Globe in the April 30 issue that he had always planned to exit the series after the fourth season; he has been reported as saying that he’d envisioned each season as a year, and the actual Deadwood camp was destroyed at the end of four.

“If a series is successful, the commercial interest is in keeping it on, even after the creative interest is in ending it,” Milch told the Globe. “With ‘Deadwood,’ my intention is to end at the end of the fourth season. I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s where I’m getting off the bus.”

Last season of “Deadwood” premiered to a Sunday crowd of 2.8 million viewers and ranks as one of HBO’s better performers alongside “Rome” and “Big Love.” Series bowed in 2004 to a strong 5.8 million viewers following “The Sopranos.”