1. The Cast and Crew
If you thought the Friends curse was bad, at least the Friends got the chance to fail. For the Entourage refugees, life has been mostly a series of supporting parts in second- and third-tier films since the tent folded up in 2011. Only Kevin Dillion was given the lead in a series, CBS’s How to Be a Gentleman, which went off the air last year after nine episodes. Jeremy Piven, the one cast member who was a name before Entourage, starred in a British series and the Miley Cyrus opus So Undercover, but is nowhere close to the heights he reached when his Ari Gold character became the show’s instant breakout. Series creator Doug Ellin dreamed up another show for HBO, but the network declined in the end to air it. Amazingly, only Rex Lee, who played Ari’s long-harrassed assistant Lloyd, has found stable success, portraying the oddball guidance counselor on ABC’s Suburgatory.
2. Mark Walhberg
The Boston-bred actor who executive produced Entourage is famously loyal to his childhood friends — hence the show’s semi-autobiographical premise. Seeing his former charges fester, he may well have been inclined to help get them working again. And making Wahlberg happy is a matter of some import for HBO. Not only does he remain a potent box office force — Ted was last year’s highest grossing comedy — but as a producer he is well on the way to becoming a television powerhouse. Even before the sun set on Entourage, he was producing another HBO hit, Boardwalk Empire. His company (the aptly named Leverage) consistently churns out TV movies and series pitches. The arrangement with Wahlberg is the closest thing HBO has to its last successful actor-producer partnership; their relationship with Tom Hanks gave birth to Band of Brothers (perhaps the network’s most successful miniseries) and the show Big Love.
The Entourage project helps HBO in a host of ways. As a producer of content — not just the channel that airs it — HBO has put together a pretty good cottage industry syndicating its shows to broadcast stations as the series’ cable runs wind down. With Entourage, however, the formula failed. After eight seasons on the air, the run glutted the public appetite for all things Vinnie Chase, and anemic ratings forced HBO into the extremely rare move of pulling the show from the airwaves and canceling a syndication deal with Tribune that was already in progress. An Entourage movie gives hope of pumping new life and excitement into the series. Even if the movie does only so-so, the accompanying publicity could be enough to revive syndication dreams.
4. Time Warner
The story of the Entourage green light is a tale of modern corporate filmmaking, with its modern corporate politics. First, it must be remembered that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes came out of the HBO arm of the company, having served as CEO of the network from 1995–2000. Still one of the conglomerate’s major profit centers, HBO works with a relatively free hand within the Time Warner empire, and doing what they can to bulk up that division is always a priority.
But why would HBO’s parent company want to release a film for which there is little notable appetite? It’s all about synergy. In the end, you’ve got to make a movie now and then, so why not make one that is wholly a piece of your own stable, where the residual effects — syndication, buzz to the parent network — dribble back to you. In modern filmmaking, a bean counter could easily pull together the numbers: Since the cast been out of work for two years, the talent will all come cheap; we can run the movie on our channels; get a few more people to watch on VOD; count how many new people will be drawn to the network… The list goes on. And if costs are kept down, the numbers can be made to add up when it’s all in-house.
5. The Fans
Entourage may drive critics to insanity, but somehow it still has admirers — enough of them to keep the show on the air for an amazing, by HBO terms, eight seasons. The series finale drew 3.1 million viewers, which is not nothing. The intelligentsia may be holding out for a Sopranos movie, but somewhere out there, there are still a few bros carrying the torch for Vinnie, E, Johnny, Turtle, and Ari. We’ll see how many of them can be motivated to get off the couch and show up at the theater sometime, probably, next year.