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HBO Signs David Milch and His New Partner, William Faulkner

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HBO announced today that it signed a new contract with one of its favorite writers, David Milch, who created Deadwood, John from Cincinnati and various projects that never made air for the network, and whose horseracing drama Luck debuts next month. (A sneak preview will air Dec. 11.) In connection with the deal, the network has also acquired the rights to adapt the novels and short stories of Nobel Prize winning Southern author William Faulkner.

It’s a curious deal, and yet, when I think about it, a potentially great pairing. I wouldn’t think of them together at first: I associate Milch with urban grit (or, Western frontier grit, in the case of Deadwood) and Faulkner with Southern gothic pastoral settings. But as a sheer writer, the former English-lit scholar seems like the singular TV writer to pair with Faulkner. He’s probably the most literary-modernist TV writer working now; like Faulkner’s, Milch’s work—from NYPD Blue through his HBO series—has been dominated by the use of language, baroque and vernacular at the same time, to imply character and create a world.

Milch’s quasi-Shakespearean speeches from Deadwood are not unlike Faulkner’s use of dialogue in novels like The Sound and the Fury. And John from Cincinnati, flawed as it was, did a remarkable thing by using the flow and syntax of the characters’ language to represent their worldview, especially in the pidgin English the celestial emissary/enigma John used as he borrowed bits of the other characters’ speech to express himself. It’s not that far removed from Faulkner’s use of stream-0f-consciousness to present his characters’ (sometimes disoriented) states of mind in, say, As I Lay Dying.

Granted, I’m not exactly sure that Faulkner’s stories—dependent as they are on the language on the page to create their worlds—need to be translated for the screen, but I’m very interested if Milch is the guy to do it. And yes, feel free to take this as further confirmation that that revival of Deadwood is really never, never, ever going to happen—but you can complain about it in the comments anyway if you like.

Excerpts from the release below:

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30, 2011 – David Milch’s Redboard Productions has entered into a new multi-year exclusive television deal with HBO, which will also cover any further services on the upcoming series “Luck,” starring Dustin Hoffman and debuting on the network Sunday, Jan. 29. Redboard has also concluded an agreement with the William Faulkner Literary Estate to produce films and television series based on selections from Faulkner’s bibliography. The deal covers all of the 19 novels and 125 short stories in the estate, as well as other works, with the exception of those currently contracted with other parties. ICM, which reps Milch, brokered the deal with Redboard and the William Faulkner Literary Estate.
Under the terms of the agreement, Milch will partner with Lee Caplin, the executor of the William Faulkner Literary Estate and CEO of Picture Entertainment Corp., to choose which works to develop, package and produce. Both Milch and Caplin will act as executive producers of those projects, with Milch serving as the executive writer in charge of adapting the works. The agreement gives HBO an exclusive first opportunity to finance, produce and distribute the projects as movies, miniseries and series. Olivia Milch will serve as coordinating producer on the projects.
“We are especially pleased to continue our longstanding relationship with one of the industry’s most talented contemporary writers,” says Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. “We know that whatever David brings to the HBO table will be exciting and innovative.”
“I’m delighted to expand my longstanding relationship with HBO to encompass the adaptation of some of the most important literary works by any American writer into television films and series,” says Milch. “As we embark on this ambitious project, our first commitment is to serve the material, and we look forward to identifying and collaborating with the best screenwriters and filmmakers to help each of the pieces find its ideal form onscreen.”