HBO News Blog

A Look Back at Carnivàle

By Jeff - @StudioTembo on Jul 19, 2013 to Featured Post, HBO Classics

carnivale-logo

It has been nearly a decade since HBO launched the record-setting premier of a show that bewildered fans with its creative and elusive story, and dismayed them at its early cancellation. I am, of course, speaking of Carnivàle.

On September 14th, 2003 at 9 P.M., 5.3 million viewers tuned in to see HBO and Daniel Knauf’s stunning and ambitious new show.

Unfortunately for the fans, and the writers, Carnivàle was never able to maintain its high ratings, and with a $2 million per episode budget, the show was doomed. Despite the show’s numerous awards, including 5 Emmy Awards and 15 nominations over the course of its 2 seasons, Carnivàle simply could not sustain itself in the eyes of the HBO executives.

The show did garner a sizable cult following, and in August of 2006, fans of the show created CarnyCon 2006 Live! Not only did many of the cast and crew of the show attend the event, but the discussion panels where recorded and later released on DVD.

Carnivàle earned its following through stunning visuals, and a musical storytelling method that was both subtle and brilliant. The music of Carnivàle is a show in and unto itself, with character themes based on ethnic instruments, and subtle clues as to character relationships through similarities in musical sounds.

milfay

The show portrayed, not only the struggle of characters, but through the use of the Knights Templar, Tarot, nuclear tests, and even genealogical character links and biographies developed before the show even began production, Carnivàle became a study of the mythology of Good-vs-Evil.

Daniel Knauf told critics of the show that Carnivàle was intended to be demanding with a lot of subtext, and admitted that “you may not understand everything that goes on but it does make a certain sense”. Although Knauf refused to reveal the show’s secrets, even after cancellation, he did eventually release a production summary of season 1 to fans who simply “had to know”.

The shows robust mythologies and intricately woven storylines may have confounded many watchers, and the show might have been too grandiose for its time, but I think with a little creative thinking, this series could have a place among HBO’s modern line-up. I think fans of shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire would eat up a show dripping with the depth and complexity of Carnivàle.

carnivale-cast

I don’t know…after nearly 10 years since the premier, the show’s magic might have faded. The cast is aging, the writers have moved on, and the fans have found new shows to watch. Even if HBO would want to bring the show back, it’s hard to say what sort of reception it would get.

Personally, I think Carnivàle was a stellar show that pushed the envelope of the audience’s attention span. By providing you with a dark, depressing backdrop and naturally developing character relationships, Carnivàle dared to defy the conventional storytelling models. It was a risk that unfortunately did not pay off for HBO.

In retrospect, the show missed the mark in a few areas, but the visual, musical and creative spectacle of Carnivàle still holds its own against some of HBO’s finest today. One can only speculate on what might have been if the show had been able to run its course.

Carnivàle shines bright among its contemporary shows like Deadwood and Rome, but while Deadwood and Rome seemed to struggle to write long term story arcs, Carnivàle excelled. All three shows met with untimely ends, but with Carnivàle it stings more so.

carnivale-little-guy

Deadwood, to me, lost its energy in season 3, and Rome had a satisfying conclusion (satisfying enough anyway). Carnivàle ended on a cliffhanger, and unless you went out of your way to research the show online, you might never have learned what the writers had planned for the future of some of the shows central characters.

It’s a shame that we, as fans, never got an opportunity to experience the full depth of this creative and innovative show. Many people, myself included, need more than the paltry scraps of a fascinating story we have been left. Maybe HBO will allow the show to be concluded in a series of 3 hour movies…or better yet, continued in books or comics.

Here’s hoping.  Until then… relive the magic of Carnivàle on DVD or watch the episodes on HBOGo.

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65 Comments on "A Look Back at Carnivàle"

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dfrocked
Guest

Good acting, great characters, realistic settings and a powerful music score, but way too much supernatural Woo-Woo. I would have enjoyed it more if the script line had concentrated on the human side of The Carnies and their struggles to survive during The Depression. A more subtle suggestion of paranormal activities and abilities manifested by a fewer number of the characters would have made it more appealing for me.

BBon
Guest
I have just watched the whole 2 seasons on Crave and I am here to tell you, I was sorely disappointed with the way HBO left the ending. I can only compare this series to Stephen Kings “book” The Stand. Totally engrossing and mind-bending! I could just weep for the not knowing the ending. I can only compare it to reading a book and 3/4 of the way through finding that someone had torn the last half out. I would love to see, read, dream or whatever the end of this story. i can sorely say that perhaps it WAS… Read more »
Lourdes Arambarry
Guest

After the first episode I was thinking “Meh,” after the third, I was out of my mind with boredom, yes, yes, fine, fine, good, good; be done with it. No comparison to GOT, on the by…bye.

Not amused
Guest

Your an idiot with an attention span to short to appreciate anything, malenial asshole.

Shaw1960
Guest
Just because something is great, doesn’t mean it has to go on forever! Would my wife and I have watched another 3, or 4, or 5 seasons of Carnivale? Yes. But…we can move on with our lives very easily without. The answer for you, dear writer, may be for you to write 5 more seasons as a novel that you can leave behind for others to read. Leave the E off the end, for no copyright infringement (although I haven’t checked; I’m certain there are 10 things named Carnival already, as well) and make even BETTER characters than HBO did.… Read more »
Edge4life
Guest

Affter all these years Carnivàle is still my favorite series of all time..
I don’t see why Hbo can’t make a next season, or atleast a movie.
Sure, the actors have grown a bit older but i’m sure the writers could figure something out for the lost time span.
Clancy Brown (Brother Justin) is as grey as he was back then and Nick Stahl looks like he hasn’t aged a bit.
I’m sure that over the past 11 years Hbo has grown wealthy enough to make atleast a movie.

BBon
Guest

I totally agree with you on that account!

Patricia Gross
Guest

My husband and I are watching the series on HBO for the first time…….we don’t want it to end.

mrdavidlopan
Guest

Watched again for the third time recently and it is still brilliant. It is also timeless due to the diligence of the shows creators in how it was shot, the sets, costumes, characters and dialogue….. Back on the shelf for another couple of years then will re-watch.

Odeza Hawkins
Guest

This is the time!! The magic is still there rolling with the CoL and Omega.

Alison Ricamore
Guest

I bet it would be a major hit if HBO brought it back. We need more seasons!!!

BBon
Guest

Here! Here! I sure would make a point of watching.

PVDC
Guest

MAKE MORE!

karrina
Guest

i wish they would have made more

Sammy
Guest

A great show?

Sammy
Guest

This is a major hit piece by the left. Brother Justin is biased on Father Coughlin from the thirties http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1795032/bio who was opposed to the socialist FDR. It’s an unbelievable coincidence the the actor playing Bro Justin even looks like Coughlin. This is a leftist meme planted in entertainment.

lamaalma
Guest

David you are alone- very, very alone! No one but you does not like it and absolutely love the characters!!

Shaw1960
Guest
I agree. The supernatural parts have no basis in reality, and you have to really dig deep into conspiracy theory to turn a great series like this into a “socialist political conspiracy”. You must not be able to watch Friends, Big Bang Theory, anything on TV without paring it down to its political, evil roots. We don’t go bashing pro-NRA, Republican television. If we don’t like it, we just don’t watch it. (Like that show, Dallas, was probably made by the Bush’s grandfather (secretly–with financing from the Koch Brothers) to set the scene and get the country ready for the… Read more »
lamaalma
Guest

PLEASE, please, please bring the best show ever made back!!!!! HBO hear our cries!

Jacqueline Kushnir
Guest

Would love to see this show come back! It was excellent! Please HBO bring it back!

Arnold
Guest

Carnivale was the best show that HBO ever made. HBO: you blew it. I hate you forever for what you did.

Doug
Guest

The cancellation of Carnivale makes me extremely sad. If HBO brought Carnivale back, it would be a dream come true. It’s not too late, HBO.

David
Guest

Am I the only person who thought it was really horrible? The story was so slow and just didn’t pull me in – it had some potential but they never really went anywhere with it. None of the characters made me care about them, it was like watching from a million miles away instead of pulling their audience in. Burn it all to the ground, I say.

BBon
Guest

Perhaps it was too complicated for you and you could not wrap your head around it?
The general consensus is that it was a fantastic show. Ripe with imagination and I could go on and on….

Lourdes Arambarry
Guest

Good Grief, you’re definitely not alone, I also thought it dragged horribly and none of the characters were note worthy. Gods be good and keep this show archived.

BBon
Guest

Ditto the above comment to you.

Gabrielle Mfuni-Assemian
Guest
Gabrielle Mfuni-Assemian

Totally agree. I am just discoverimg the shiw and i was like…what the heck HBO you do better than that usually. It is way too slow amd does not make anay sense. I like father Justin he was the only story line that made sense everythimg else? Yikes…

wawahnee
Guest
I personally this this was some, if not the best TV I have ever watched. nothing has ever come close – but Deadwood and GOT aren’t far behind. I think the issue was the majority of people who originally tuned in weren’t smart enough or ‘open’ enough to not be offended, to see this continue. I was aware of huge amount of complaints from the christian right about this show directly to HBO.. I personally think they succumbed to pressure. so wish they didn’t and they continued on.. but ‘manning up’ is hard when theres money, religion and politics involved..… Read more »
BBon
Guest

Never considered that but you know, I think you make a good point. In that case, shame on HBO for being so cowardly.
Here I am paying for a subscription to HBO…why?

Gabrielle Mfuni-Assemian
Guest
Gabrielle Mfuni-Assemian

Although i dis not lime the show that much but liked the idea and wanted more of good vs evil stuff i so love your answer. You made yoir case.

Brooke
Guest
Seeing a comparison between Carnivale and American Horror Freak Show made me finally watch through the entire two seasons, of which I only caught a few episodes when it originally aired. I love this show and I could see even a decade later a reboot (hey Disney waited 20 years before Tron got a sequel) working out pretty well, maybe even better now that many of the actors have aged. I’m not sure I’d say the show was before it’s time but it has aged very well and may be the type of show that attracts a niche audience better… Read more »
Gornsgonewild
Guest

It was a show before its time and could certainly holds its own in todays TV market. Look at what American Horror story is doing, yup Carnivale. I would love to see them bring this back. The original idea was a 5 year jump between season 2 and 3. Heck make is a 10 year jump.

Mabuse
Guest

I just started watching this series and i’m completly overwhelmed! Such great work, I don’t understand why they stop making it ! Maybe at that time the themes were not in vogue and it wasn’t appreciatted, but i think nowadays would have been an even bigger success and could have 6 or 7 seasons !!

skip
Guest

I think it was a victim of it’s time, cancelled due to the religious rights protests. Time to get over this and get back to serious viewing.

Milad
Guest
A head of its time. I hope they grow a pair and start this up again. The story is too good to worry about trivial things (will people like new actors). This is the era of really good tv shows and Carnivale was the best. Even Game of Thrones doesnt compare to it, and I read the books so trust me. Do yourself a favor HBO and bring it back, the stage is set, people are wanting to watch compelling shows streaming and are willing to pay for it. You already have a base to start from with previous fans.… Read more »
skip
Guest

Tighten the productions costs and get this thing going. It’s got potential, even without all of the huge production costs. Do it!!

Delores Hively
Guest
This is still my all time favorite HBO series. The writing, character development, cinematography, music, timing, everything was so well crafted. I would love to see a mini-series or film that would answer some questions. Good vs Evil is timeless and I don’t think any true fans would care if the characters have aged. I LOVE Game of Thrones, liked Six Feet Under, Rome, Deadwood, but nothing quite compares to Carnivale’s complexity of story line and characters. This takes a while to really get to know the characters and their motivations but so worth the wait and then you’re really… Read more »
Evan Fowler
Guest

To this day I sometimes find myself thinking about this show and wondering what would have happened. It’s like I found the best book I’ve ever read but the only copy that exists has 2/3s ripped out of it. I will never forgive HBO for beginning such a fascinating story and then leave the viewers hanging forever.

BBon
Guest

This is exactly what I said above before even reading your comment. I had to laugh at the coincidence.

JasonSC1
Guest

Just finished the series too. I dont know what HBO was thinking when they canceled Carnivale. This show could have went 6 SEASONS!!! OMG!!! I need to know what happens to these Characters!!!!!! Give us a Book or something and I dont even like to read books but I would to know what happens, FIGURE OUT SOMETHING HBO!!!

Keeli M
Guest

Just finished the series and loooooved it! It’s too bad it was short lived. I’m hooked!

Paul Kramer
Guest
Started watching Carnivale last week on HBO-GO and – honest to goodness – thought I was watching a new production. I know – I must not get out much. Very intriguing, making as good use of the Dustbowl days as BOARDWALK EMPIRE does with Prohibition; e.g., there indeed was a lot of evangelical hokum in the Midwest and California in the ’30’s, Let’s face it, legitimate drama cannot sustain itself forever without collapsing upon itself. But after a half dozen episodes I’m hooked (and I’m a VERY hard sell!). PS/For most of first episode I was sure that “Sophie” was… Read more »
skip
Guest

I know what you mean. It had that “timeless” quality to it. All the more reason to bring it back. Do it!!

Dani
Guest

Amazing show. I cannot believe that we are denied the full story. The show was clearly ahead of it’s time. Now that serial television defines the way we are entertained, it should have a place next to game of thrones, etc. Also as a side note- the intro to the show was wonderfull.

lady_morgahnna
Guest

just binge watched via DVD from Netflix…I was astounded that only 2 seasons were done, HBO, what were you thinking!? Stunning and spellbinding.

joelie15
Guest

Have just finished watching carnivale and im so disappointed that we arenot going to be given the whole story it is a very interesting series which I just cant get enough of unluck some other weak series that should be scrapped hbo please make some more carnivale

sepsea
Guest
i bet even with new cast it would still be a good show. maybe even have cameos from the original actors. not quite the same for us fans of the first carnival, but probably would still be a good show. they might have to re-do the first two season for ppl that are new to the show and don’t it. but I bet with how t.v. and society is today it would catch a lot more attention. especially since it would have the original fans then basically a whole new audience/fandom with the young generations from 10 yrs ago having… Read more »
skip
Guest

You made it sound like it was only attractive to youthful viewers….not so! At age 70, and a first time viewer, I liked it. I’m not sure I have the time to spend “hanging around waiting” for HBO to pick it up again. I think someone other than HBO needs to do it! HBO doesn’t have it anymore.

Debraj Biswas
Guest

Carnivale deserves another season. IT was wrong decision to cancel the season. It saddens me most to know that the third season is not yet broadcasted.

Halo
Guest

I doubt that they would bring Carnivale back for another season, but I have always wished that they would do a mini-series or a movie to tie up the loose ends. I was crushed when the show was cancelled and the plot was still wide open. It was a great show and it is definitely missed.

Mike T
Guest
I have not had or paid for an HBO subscription since they cancelled the show. I am still furious to this day. I am one of the weirdos that loves shows like this and I have yet to find a show that was as compelling to watch and written so well. I wish I could just get a book or something to let me know how it ended because I just watched the whole series again, in a day and a half, which means I watched nothing but Carnivale for 1.5 days. I own them on DVD and still love… Read more »
skip
Guest

I’d recommend using your own imagination, as HBO is not up to it. End the series exactly the way you wanted it. I don’t see HBO pulling this off.

Dan Trussell
Guest
It’s unfortunate that shows that actually inspire thought from the audience are cast aside while other ignorance inspired garbage entertainment is kept and funded by the corporate stooges. What they fail to recognize is that this is the very reason people are moving to netflicks and away from their programming. Game of thrones is awesome, and I used to swear by HBO, as THE place to find what you were looking for, but all that aside the decision to not at least conclude this series, is nothing short of weak, and a sure sign that if it’s good programming HBO… Read more »
skip
Guest

This was 10 years ago, and the religious right held HBO’s testacies in their hands, squeezing with a resounding reminder of what could be done at that time. It’s time HBO stand up and grow a pair. Do it!

Lauren from Australia
Guest
Lauren from Australia

I love Carnivale so much and I really hope they can do a third season and tie up loose ends and who know, with all the people loving Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, it might do really well.

Jef Dinsmore
Guest

Good piece. I might go back and rewatch this show becasue of it. I hope to someday do an HBO Classic episode review of CARNIVALE some day.

Erica
Guest

I was thinking the same thing. It’s been so long that it might be like watching new all over again… and then being disappointed all over again that it just ends. Lol…. still think I’ll watch it though.

Jef Dinsmore
Guest

Feel free to come back and share with us your thoughts upon seeing it the second time around.

rbk
Guest

And still (with the aforementioned Deadwood and Rome) one of my all-time favorite tv shows. Loved it and it really is a shame that it didn’t continue. But Nahojism is right, probably too complex (or too slow or too weird) for most viewers. I know most everyone I sang its praises too quickly gave up on it.

MJ Snow
Guest

This makes me want to go back and rewatch! I loved this show, was heartbroken when it ended so abruptly!

Donna Anderson
Guest

I only watched the first couple of episodes because I was working nights at the time. But now I’m intrigued. Sounds like a good show for binge-watching this weekend.

Nahojism
Guest

A fantastic show. Maybe it was too complex for most viewers… It’s a big shame it didn’t continue.

pat gibson
Guest

I agree that Carnivale should come back as a series or movies. However it should return. This was work that was extraordinary. Actors, writers, cast and crew are to be commended. I loved it..

Mike T
Guest

I just binge watched the entire series in the last day and a half. There were even more things that I did not catch from the first time around. I now own them on DVD and cannot say that I wont to watch them again. I loved this show and when HBO cancelled it, I cancelled HBO.

skip
Guest

I love binge watching….best thing that’s happened since sliced bread. Except when it comes to something like this….where HBO leaves you hanging…

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