You likely don’t have Entourage on your list of “quality” television shows—it’s not like HBO’s other programs. It has been criticized, for instance, for “lacking the darkness and edge that have distinguished HBO’s best series.” However, because Entourage premiered in the summer of 2004, when many of the premium cable network’s popular series (e.g., Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos) were coming to a close, Entourage is partly responsible for keeping HBO afloat. This is why, in 2006, Carolyn Strauss, then-president of HBO entertainment, called Entourage “the future of the network.” Though the series never drew ratings as robust as the blockbuster series that preceded it, Entourage regularly drew audiences of 2.5 million viewers over the course of its eight seasons. HBO made money off of the series in a 2009 sale of its off-net rights to Viacom’s Spike TV, but the purchase reportedly hasn’t given Spike the boost it had hoped for. This, in context with Entourage’s overall performance at HBO, made the recent news that Warner Brothers is making an Entourage movie all the more curious. Unlike Sex and the City (SatC), to which the series is frequently compared, Entourage may have already given HBO’s parent company Time Warner all that it’s capable of giving.
Entourage is based upon actor Mark Wahlberg’s experiences as an up-and-coming actor transplanted to Hollywood from modest beginnings in Boston, Massachusetts. Wahlberg and his manager, Stephen Levinson, worked with writer-director Doug Ellin to create Entourage, and developed the comedy’s main character, Vincent “Vince” Chase (Adrian Grenier) in Wahlberg’s image. Central to the story, as its name suggests, Vince brings his friends from back home (Queens, New York) to share his experiences in Hollywood as an A-list actor.
Like the four female friends in SatC, Entourage is built upon the close relationships among Vince and his three lifelong friends: Eric “E” Murphy (Kevin Connolly), Vince’s best friend and manager; Salvatore “Turtle” Assante (Jerry Ferrara), Vince’s driver/assistant; and Vince’s half-brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon), a comically unsuccessful actor. Vince shares his wealth and success with his friends so selflessly that at times it seems that Eric, Turtle, and Johnny benefit unduly from Vince’s generosity, living in his houses, driving his cars, accompanying him to exotic locations, and wooing women by capitalizing on their long history with Vince. But having his childhood friends around him gives Vince a sense of security and keeps him grounded. The friends are reliant on Vince’s offensive, sharp-tongued, and larger-than-life agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) for money, advice, and his connections with the Hollywood elite.
Although the series did not amass critical acclaim, it was frequently applauded for its seemingly authentic portrayal of men and male friendships. This realistic portrayal of men’s relationships with each other, often credited for the series’ success, was Executive Producer Doug Ellin’s goal; however, Entourage’s location in the surreal world of Hollywood threatens its realism. To ground the fantasy elements of the Hollywood setting, Entourage shoots scenes at “real locations,” for example, the Sundance Film Festival, a live U2 concert, and a Lakers game, with “real” celebrity appearances where stars “play” themselves. Praising the series’ realistic portrayal of L.A. life, The Washington Post suggested, “No series had ever so accurately made use of the feel of doing business in Hollywood and West L.A.”
Given this, you can likely see why the series has been called “a West Coast version of ‘Sex and the City.’” Warner Brothers’ recent announcement about the upcoming Entourage movie suggests that Time Warner is betting that the similarities between the two shows are deeper than plot structure (please, no Entourage prequel on the CW!). But making a movie of Entourage, with its relatively low viewership and its overall lackluster performance, may not be the best move for Entourage’s legacy (or HBO’s). Time Warner is clearly chasing the incredible success of Sex and the City’s first movie, but because Entourage is not typical HBO fare, I, like others, fear that if the Entourage movie isn’t done well, it will end up more like SatC’s second movie than its first (or worse: Vince’s failed film Medellin!). I’ll likely see the movie out of curiosity, but I’d rather that Warner Brothers let Entourage keep its modest reputation as the unlikely HBO series that drew followers and helped HBO continue to make “quality” television.