Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carnivale has the greatest pitch in the history of television

Those who are already fans of Carnivale already know that Daniel Knauf's head trip of a series provided viewers with the coolest opening credit sequence on television, one of the great cinematic tattoos, and the most complex mythology since... well, ever. But did you know that Knauf's original pitch to HBO is, in its detail, style, and inclusion of enough mythology to melt your brain, one of the all-time great TV pitches?

You can check out the pitch, which runs an astounding 61 (!) pages, here. If you don't want to read the whole thing (although I highly recommend it), you can read my take on some of the highlights. Obviously, spoilers abound.

  • No one but Knauf would write a pitch document that features interviews, journal entries, newspaper articles, and police reports. Of course, no one else could have written Carnivale either.
  • The fact that Lila Villanueva (a.k.a. the Bearded Lady) is the primary source for the fake researcher's information about Ben, Brother Justin and the Carnivale is fascinating in and of itself. Lila was never a particularly involved character, but the pitch document paints her entire story arc in a whole new light.
  • The pitch describes Brother Justin (Clancy Brown) as "one of the most powerful evangelical ministers of the thirties," and teases the eventual demise of his church by saying that it "simply ceased to exist," and that Justin himself vanished from the public record. This tantalizing tidbit just makes it more upsetting that the show was cancelled before it could resolve any of its story arcs.
  • There is tons of information in the pitch about the backstory of Scudder, Lodz and Lucius Belyakov (Management), and it is crazy, wonderful stuff.
  • The outline of the fantastic two-parter, "Babylon" and "Pick and Number," only deals with Ben's (relatively minor) storyline, completely omitting the heartbreaking death of Dora Mae, Samson's carnival justice, and the nightmare-inducing realization of the nature of Babylon. It just goes to show that, no matter how hard you try, you can't predict what parts of a story will strike a chord with audiences.
  • Sofie's mother was originally named Sophia, not Apollonia.
  • In a journal entry, Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) mentions that Samson corrected his use of the term "midget," preferring "dwarf." If you've seen In Bruges, you know why that's funny.
I've really just scratched the surface here. If you love Carnivale and you have time, go check out the pitch in its entirety. If you aren't familiar with the show, go watch it (there are only two seasons), and then read the pitch document. 

And if you have a chance, go check out the AV Club's weekly recaps in TV Club Classic. You can refresh your memory of the series, read Todd VanDerWerff's excellent analyses of the episodes, and talk the show to death with fellow fans in the comments. Maybe if we read and write religiously, the AV Club will take pity on us in the way HBO would not, and let VanDerWerff recap the second season, so that we all have more time to bemoan the series' premature cancellation.

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