“Logan Lucky” and “The Knick” are one and the same. Yes, one is a new Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig-led motion picture — a brisk, lively, crowd-pleasing heist flick, opening this weekend. And “The Knick” was a TV show, set in 1901 with gruesome operations, low ratings, and a cancellation handed down by Cinemax after two seasons.
But beyond their shared director, both “Logan Lucky” and “The Knick” operate outside the norm. If the former succeeds, it could lead to more great TV like the latter; it could help build a world where ambitious shows — like “The Knick” Season 3 — could see the light of day.
Steven Soderbergh’s first and last TV show, along with his return from the filmmakers’ retirement home, are auteur efforts with a clear, creative vision, and their success is measured differently from blockbusters of both mediums.
“Logan Lucky” doesn’t have to earn “Wonder Woman” numbers to be a winner. Built on the same financing plan as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Tom Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” films, Steven Soderbergh has crafted an innovative system that sidesteps major studios entirely. He financed the film independently and his partnership for theatrical distribution through Bleeker Street is structured to keep all control with the creatives.
In this case, that’s Soderbergh (he’s handling the marketing himself). In the future, it could be anyone with the means, know-how, or who finds a way to collaborate with his production banner, Fingerprint Releasing. Soderbergh is setting up a future where he and other savvy auteurs don’t have to rely on studio interference. He’s in control of his movies. And as long as “Logan Lucky” makes money for him and the other profit participants (who include his cast), he could be in control for the rest of his career.
So how does that help TV? The television landscape is changing, and it’s changing quickly.
Big-time creators are fleeing broadcast for streaming services with the promise of unrestricted creative freedom. Look no further than Shonda Rhimes leaving ABC, where she’s thrived for decades, to build new shows at Netflix, and “The Walking Dead” mastermind Robert Kirkman ditching AMC for Amazon.
The TV industry is seeing a shift in power, and creatives have more control. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are leaping at the chance to let auteurs do whatever they want — even the Coen Brothers are “streaming motherfuckers” now — and they’re luring talent away from broadcast, cable, and premium cable networks, which have been slow to adjust.
Take, for instance, “The Knick.” Though it was never a ratings behemoth, it’s hard to argue “The Knick” put Cinemax originals on the map. It snagged nine Emmy nominations in two years (and one win), along with a Golden Globe nomination for Clive Owen in 2015. That’s more awards love than all its other originals combined.
But the only reason we’ve been given for the “The Knick’s” cancellation is speculative. In a reddit AMA for “Logan Lucky,” Soderbergh wrote, “Season 3 of ‘The Knick’ was set in 1947 and was going — at my absolute insistence — to be shot in anamorphic black-and-white. It’s POSSIBLE that may have contributed to its demise…”
Even if that’s true, it may not have been the only reason the series ended. Cinemax had been pretty good to Soderbergh up to that point, given the challenging material and an expensive production. (To allow for Soderbergh’s roaming camera and lengthy takes, the period decor had to be just right and appear, at least, to be never-ending.) The Season 2 finale was a bit of a cliffhanger, with Owen’s Dr. John W. Thackery possibly dead on his own operating table. That, combined with the proposed time jump, means the series may have been without its star in Season 3, which would have been another reason for Cinemax to cancel it.
But the divide implied by Soderbergh remains: He pitched an idea, the network got nervous, and Season 3 never happened.
The issue of trust between creatives and studios dates back decades. The Hollywood system as a whole still needs to learn to trust insightful creators like Soderbergh, and traditional television networks need to adjust if they hope to compete against the streaming behemoths that threaten to put them out of business.
It’s not always the right call, but learning who to trust to go down the rabbit hole, be it on the big or small screen, breeds success. (Cinemax parent HBO has done quite well in trusting David Simon, Armando Iannucci, and Damon Lindelof.)
TV networks and film studios are different beasts, but both (rightfully) fear what streaming services can do to their business. Trusting creatives is one way they can stand out.
The success of “Logan Lucky” would help build that trust. Its success could lead to better entertainment in all mediums. Given the right terms, Soderbergh and similar creatives could partner with Cinemax, HBO, Netflix, or, heck, even ABC, and that would mean a future filled with better programming for everyone.
Or, if Daniel Craig and his black-and-white prison pinstripes become a hit, maybe Soderbergh will fund his own TV show — in anamorphic black-and-white.