The Carnivale Interviews

Monday, March 08, 2004

Daniel Knauf Interview
Part 2

Interviewed by Beth Blighton

Beth: Have you ever heard any theories online and what-have-you about the show that just make you go, “Whoa… That’s one that never would have occurred to me in a million years!”?

Dan: Every day. I mean, every day I’ll read something and go, “Oh, wow! That was really smart of me to do that!”

Beth: Weren’t you clever? (laughing)

Dan: Yeah, I’m a genius! (laughing hard)

Beth: That’s right…

Dan: I’ll be sitting there dribbling on my t-shirt going, “Look at me! I’m a genius!” (laughing)

Beth: Exactly. So are we looking to have any additions to the cast this year or any changes? Not that you could tell me who lives or dies in the trailer, I know…

Dan: Nah, I can’t tell you who lives or dies in the trailer. I’m enjoying watching people guess too much.

Beth: I bet!

Dan: You’d be depriving me of one of my sole means of entertainment! Suffice to say, there will be some cast changes. But what we’re doing is a carnival and, in carnivals, people come and go – and people come back again. Just to tell our story in a reasonably realistic way… I mean, this isn’t like “Gilligan’s Island.” There are other carnivals to go to, to join, to make more money at. So if somebody’s disgruntled, they may go on their way, but then they may come crawling back later. So we’re always gonna see that kind of a dynamic within our cast.

Beth: So the theory that’s kind of circulated on the various lists -- that maybe no one can actually leave the carnival – is kind of out the window then?

Dan: Any theory that has anything to do with determinism is probably false. And I don’t want to ruin anybody’s day, but free will is absolutely critical to our storytelling here. Everybody makes choices. Nobody’s destiny is spelled out.

Beth: So right up until the end, you have a choice.

Dan: Absolutely. And that includes… The whole idea of being born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, yeah, that’s all about potential. The man may be very different from the blood. And so we are going to find out, I would say, in the very first episode… A lot of things are going to be clarified because the game is now afoot. What Ben’s destiny is or what his quest is will be defined. We will forever know what the Tattooed Man is.

Beth: Excellent!

Dan: We will know what needs to be done. And the same will be true of Brother Justin’s world. So battle lines are now drawn. And we start our first episode off literally right where we left off. So there won’t be a heartbeat between… Of course, it’ll be a year and three months late, but as far as the storytelling goes, we pick right up from where we left off.

Beth: I thought the last fifteen or so minutes of the season finale this year were just phenomenal. That came together so well.

Dan: Yeah, we had a good time. It’s always fun to burn a bus. Everybody’s ridden on a school bus, it’s good just to set one on fire.

Beth: We were sitting there watching, and my husband was like, “Okay, now that Jonesy has run in there, why has everybody stopped throwing water on the fire?”

Dan: (laughing)

Beth: I guess that was his nitpick – you don’t immediately stop fighting the fire just cuz some wet guy went running in there!

Dan: Everybody was just standing there going “Whoa…” It was just kind of a lull… They started throwing water on it as soon as we said, “Cut.” (chuckling)

Beth: Okay…

Dan: But the thing that’s weird is, and I just realized it in telling you that, that two of my major school – and I went to parochial school – that two of my major elementary school goals have now been fulfilled.

Beth: (laughing) Oh, really?

Dan: In the first movie I had produced from one of my scripts, I blew up a church. And now I’ve burned a school bus.

Beth: There ya go…

Dan: That’s great! I’m gonna have to work on… Oh, I dunno…

Beth: It’s over!

Dan: No, there’s other things… (chuckling) There’s a whole list.

Beth: (laughing) You need new goals now!

Dan: (laughing) Yeah! I’m gonna have to take up croquet or something…

Beth: Or perhaps knitting.

Dan: No, that’s Dawn… Dawn Prestwich sits in the writer’s room, knitting, saying unspeakable things. Like she’s that lady, during the French Revolution, as they’re dragging guys up to the guillotine, sitting there knitting, knitting, knitting, saying unspeakable things…

Beth: (laughing) Waiting for the blade to fall.

Dan: Yes! She and her partner, Nicole… And when Nicole started out on the show, she couldn’t even look at a picture of a freak. She would actually, I would watch her, and she would be kind of averting her eyes. And now she has embraced her inner freak. And she’s become an even bigger freak than anyone else in the room.

Beth: See? That’s what happens…

Dan: Yeah, that’s what happens when you turn them to the dark side! (laughing)

Beth: Someone was asking the other day if you guys are planning on bringing back the giant who was in the first episode?

Dan: Oh, God! Ya know, everybody got so weird about that giant!

Beth: Well, he’s in that Tim Burton movie, “Big Fish” now, and I think that got people thinking about him all over again.

Dan: Well, yeah! See, the giant was never a regular. He was basically background, and he was in the pilot. And you have to keep in mind that the pilot was shot a year before the second episode. So availability becomes an issue when you’ve got somebody who’s just playing background, ya know what I mean? He didn’t have any lines. So by the time we went into production, it was like, “Oh, ya know, Mathew’s not available.” And it was like, “Oh, okay, well shoot,” and move on. And then all of a sudden it’s “Where’s the giant? They had a giant!”

Beth: We wanna see the giant! (laughing)

Dan: (laughing) And you’re thinking, wait a minute… We didn’t think anybody would notice. But then, how STUPID is that?!? How stupid were we?

Beth: (laughing) Other than the fact that he’s a GIANT???

Dan: Oh, no… Nobody will notice that this NINE FOOT GUY is gone! (laughing) But we will be… The word’s already gone out. We’re gonna try to book him whenever possible. It’ll never be as a featured background player. Maybe we can’t afford him anymore, who knows?

Beth: People know who he is from this movie and everything now…

Dan: He’s a very nice man

Beth: Now I know you can’t tell me who’s coming out of that burning bus, but people are kinda fascinated with Lodz’s murder, as well. Do you think Mr. Mentalist Lodz saw THAT one coming? Cuz he almost played it like, “Alright, Boss, let’s put on a show for this young man.”

Dan: I think Lodz made his own bed. And I think there are a million ways to sorta activate Ben. They were trying to activate this boy and make him understand what he was capable of doing. Only everything they kept trying, he kept turning away from – denying, denying, denying it.

Beth: Or trying to change the rules…

Dan: Yeah! And they just, at this point, it’s kinda like electroshock therapy. They had to do something! And, well, it is kinda of a coincidence, isn’t it, that Lodz chose as his person to force Ben’s hand the one person in the carnival who I’m sure that he loathed.

Beth: True enough.

Dan: The thing is there was no love lost between him and Ruthie, and I think that there was some ulterior motives in there. Look at it this way, it was a win-win for Lodz, cuz if Ben doesn’t step up to the plate, Lodz has just scraped Ruthie off the bottom of his shoe, and he doesn’t have somebody hanging around, getting in his way. Cuz she was on to him, you know what I mean? And if Ben hadn’t exercised his power, then Lodz would have thought, “Hey, great. No big loss.” And if Ben did, then that’s great, too. Lodz gets the credit with Management for coming up with this wonderful, devious scheme. But Lodz, as they say in Texas – and this is a valid defense, by the way, in murder trials in Texas, from what I understand – is the defense, “Well, he needed killin’.”

Beth: Well, Lodz must have needed some killin’, in that case, eh?

Dan: Yup, Lodz needed some killin’…

Beth: And the fact that Ruthie was the one person Ben happened to love… That’s kinda a bonus, too.

Dan: And the one person Lodz targets is somebody…is the one person HE just happens to hate. I mean, Ben wasn’t tight with a million people in the carnival, but it was just a nasty thing to do. Placing a snake in somebody’s laundry bag just isn’t cool! (chuckling)

Beth: No, that’s not nice. Do you think Lila knew? Or do you think Lodz just used her?

Dan: No, Lila did not know.

Beth: I didn’t think so. Now, does Lila think that Lodz might possibly still be in that burning bus, though? Wasn’t the last she saw of him when he went to go see Apollonia?

Dan: Yeah, but that was way, way earlier in the day. So I’m not thinking she’s thinking he’s in there.

Beth: Is it possible there was something between Lodz and Apollonia in the past? That’s kinda the couple I could see, the couple who might have had a lot of history…

Dan: (chuckling) Well, look at it this way. There’s not a lot of people who Apollonia can have a conversation with! (laughing)

Beth: (laughing) No, not too many!

Dan: But no, they never had a romantic relationship. It was more of a kinship, from the standpoint of somebody, besides her daughter, that she could have a conversation with. It went south at a certain point.

Beth: I would say…

Dan: She kind of realized what Lodz’s intent was and so forth.

Beth: The thing that cracked me up is the scene where Sophie is standing there over her mom with that big pillow!

Dan: (evil laughing)

Beth: (laughing) I thought, there’s gonna be some smothering goin’ on today! But then she puts the pillow down… But wait! She’s picking up the scissors! That’s not any better…(laughing)

Dan: (laughing) When she slapped her, ya know, what’s really funny about it is – here’s Sophie, slapping around her catatonic mom, and a good part of the audience is going, “Yeah! Give it to her, girl!” (laughing)

Beth: Yeah, let her have it!

Dan: She’s been asking for that! I just wished that Television Without Pity would start calling here Mamatonic. She’s not comatose. She’s catatonic. It’s so stupid, I had to keep correcting everybody on the staff, the cast and everybody. They’d say, “Well, we’ve got this one character who’s comatose…” And I’d be, “She’s not comatose! She’s catatonic!”

Beth: (laughing) There’s a difference, dammit! Look it up! (laughing) I can see you throwing the dictionary down.

Dan: (laughing)

Beth: But see, Mamatose just has such a nice ring to it.

Dan: I think Mamatonic has got almost a poetic sound to it.

Beth: That’s true. So, how does it feel to get a second season?

Dan: Well, everybody’s happy there’s a second season. Everybody’s thrilled. I think the things about the show that I think people really liked and responded to – there’s just gonna be a lot more of that in this next season.

Beth: Excellent!

Dan: And a lot less of the stuff that was just purely exasperating – where it was like something was set up that didn’t quite pay off. I think that was just a matter of the staff and all of us just sort of getting our sea legs for what was a fairly radical way of telling stories. I think that next season, I want to make sure the show’s accessible. It’s wonderful to have people as obsessed and passionate about it, and filling in the blanks – and we will certainly not be filling in ALL the blanks. But the main thing is, I’d like to see episodes where somebody who’s never seen it before can tune in, and watch it, and enjoy it on a certain level. But that’s really one of the hardest things in the world to do. I’ve really kinda set the bar really high for the staff this year, and certainly for myself in that, it’s sort of like, let’s try to get people who just want to be entertained, too. We had episodes that did that, I think. Our best episodes always did that. They could stand alone. But I want every episode to do that next season.
What we’re going to be doing… We were able to sit down as a group and see what worked and what didn’t work, and where did we drop the ball, and how do we avoid repeating mistakes. And often it was something like, “Okay, we went into this story with this intent, BUT there was this unexpected sort of thing that happened. And why did these two episodes that were so similar not work at the same level? What was missing?” So it’s been a lot of sitting down as writers and saying, “Okay, what wasn’t working?” And one of the things about this staff, which is just an extraordinary staff… I mean, Dawn and Nicole are back, Bill is back, we just signed Tracy Torme, who created “Sliders,” and we’ve got John McLaughlin, who’s this brilliant playwright. He’s from New York, and he’s going to be working with us. So when you’re in the room, everybody’s short-handing it. Cuz nobody in that room needs to be taught, “Why doesn’t that work?” It’ll be halfway out of somebody’s mouth before they’re going, “Oh, wait a minute… No, that won’t work.” And then somebody will jump in. So it’s really such a high level staff that it’s just a really neat experience. That room is just extraordinary.

Beth: Do you think it was a close call when it came to the renewal of “Carnivale”?

Dan: I think it was the internet postings that really put us up over the top as far as getting renewal. Because the ratings were just barely where they needed to be. They weren’t extraordinarily high, but they never really dipped to a level where we would have been in trouble. But keep in mind the expense of the show.

Beth: Right, right!

Dan: So yes, we were pulling ratings that were comparable to, I guess, “The Wire” or in some cases “Six Feet Under,” but “Six Feet Under” costs half what our show costs to produce. Although we did have a very expensive pilot to amortize, and just gearing up for something like that was just extraordinarily expensive. Getting a period Ferris wheel, you know…
By the way, there was somebody who posted something about the Ferris wheel not being correct for the period. It’s stamped right there by the manufacturer. I think the thing was built like in 1921. (laughing) They did have metal cars back then. He said, no, they had wooden cars. And I’m sitting there thinking, well, did you ever see a Model T built out of wood? Of course they had metal then! (laughing)

Beth: Sure, they had metal. It’s possible…

Dan: Yeah, why not? And most everybody on the crew and cast has been on that Ferris wheel. The last night we shot, after wrap, we ran the Ferris wheel, and everybody kept jumping on it… I wouldn’t get on that thing in a million years!

Beth: Well, I’m a big chicken and don’t even trust the ones we have now!

Dan: This thing is OLD! It only cost us like five grand! Isn’t that a trip? You can buy a Ferris wheel for less than a car!

Beth: And that’s an antique, too. You’d think that would add value because of collectors or something.

Dan: Well, no... See, in the world of amusement equipment, there’s no such thing as “antique.” There’s just decrepit or it works. And I think that’s basically… (laughing) Ya know, I think “antique” is not good in the amusement ride business.

Beth: Nah, I suppose it’s not. Now, I’d like to ask you about a couple of things in “Carnivale” that absolutely drive the fans crazy, but I’m not sure you’re gonna want to answer because people seem to be having so much fun trying to figure it out.

Dan: I’ll go on a case by case basis.

Beth: Fair enough. The first one is the fetus in the jar. That got tons of people going.

Dan: We’ve had a little trouble negotiating with the fetus in the jar this year. His representatives have been fairly obstinate. We’re hoping to close a deal within the next week or so, but you know…

Beth: Does he want points? Or is it all about the size of his trailer?

Dan: Well, ya know, he’s looking for a back end, which is totally out of the question. I understand, cuz he’s a fetus and everything. But I expect that we’ll be seeing the fetus again.

Beth: Well, I hope he has a good accountant handling his money for him and not his parents, cuz ya know how that can go. We don’t wanna see him robbing a liquor store in fifteen years when the acting thing is all over for him. (chuckling)

Dan: I will tell ya, somebody bright pretty much nailed the fetus.

Beth: And now… we get to figure out who the bright one is out there?

Dan: I will say definitively that… Ya know what? I’m just gonna take this one right off the table here. The fetus is not Management, okay? There’s not a jar behind the curtain with a dead baby floating in it. (chuckling.) That’s just silly. That is just silly! (long, evil laugh)

Beth: What can I say? Some questions I just gotta ask.

Dan: All the fans have to ask themselves is this. If Ben pulled the curtain aside and revealed Management… would I or would I not be horrifically disappointed if it was a jar with a rubber baby in it?

Beth: (laughing) I think it would depend on how much you’ve defended the rubber baby position.

Dan: Well, if you’d defended the rubber baby, you’d be thrilled. But you’d be like the only one. See, everybody else would be going, “Oh, my God! How lame!”

Beth: “No they didn’t!”

Dan: “What? WHAT?” I’m not saying that maybe it isn’t a manifestation of Management, but no, it ISN’T Management.

Beth: And then… we have The Bear.

Dan: The bear is a bear!

Beth: The bear is a bear?

Dan: To paraphrase Groucho Marx, “Sometimes a bear is just a bear!” The bear is a bear! What happened was that was Lodz’s act. Lodz had Bruno the Dancing Bear. And when they found themselves caught in No Man’s Land, with the constantly shifting battle lines that were drawn in Europe during WWI, and they were sort of trapped, and shells and mortars started going off, the bear panicked and ran off, and Lodz was out looking for him. And what he ended up with was a pretty good trade. He lost the bear but he got Scudder. Scudder was kinda like his new bear!

Beth: So the bear is gone, he did actually lose the bear then, permanently.

Dan: The bear is dead. The bear’s toast.

Beth: Aw…

Dan: The bear is gone.

Beth: And please indulge one of my personal theories here… Did Lodz lose his sight to mustard gas while attempting to help Scudder?

Dan: No.

Beth: Okay, I just had to ask.

Dan: No, he didn’t.

Beth: Okay, so he actually DID literally trade that sight away then?

Dan: Yes, he did.

Beth: Okay. And Scudder is an American or a Canadian soldier?

Dan: He is an American, but he was enlisted as a Canadian. You could enlist in the Canadian army… You could do that. If you really wanted to go fight, you could go fight with the Canadians.

Beth: So he’s wearing a Canadian uniform -- because there’s all sorts of questions about the uniforms.

Dan: It was a Canadian uniform.

Beth: And the other soldier is a Russian?

Dan: Yes he is.

Beth: Aha… And so the plot thickens…

Dan: Aha! That’s okay, because that’s stuff that should have been clear. Ya know, sometimes there’s things that should have been clear. We weren’t hiding them to be cute, just for some reason something didn’t read when we shot it or whatever. So that’s one of those things we’re going to be minding this year, to make sure that the things that people do need to know are clear in the way we tell the story.

Beth: Are we going to get anything more about the Justin/Iris/Plemina train wreck and the father’s evil, chasing-us, assassins thing?

Dan: Yes, but not, not, not… I’m not gonna… Yes, we will.

Beth: Good enough. No further elaboration needed. Is there anything you wanted to say to the fans in parting? Any advice you want to give us to get ready for the second season?

Dan: Well… It’s gonna be a much faster, funner ride. But what I’d like to say is thanks because, like I said, that’s what put us over the top. The internet and internet chat rooms, boards, groups, so forth – those are things that networks do not really know what it means. They can’t… There’s not the history like there is with the Nielsen’s and they can’t say, “What does all this chatter mean?” And I think that it was the sheer volume of postings that really kinda made them… Usually this is true, even with HBO to some extent – “No” is usually a very comfortable word to say in the entertainment business. People very rarely lose their jobs over a “No.” People lose their jobs over yeses. And the only way to get a “Yes” sometimes is to make “No” uncomfortable. So when somebody can say, “Look, we had all this internet chatter,” and maybe some subsequent show the same thing happens, and it turns out to be a big hit... But I think that what happened was that all of this internet chatter made HBO very uncomfortable with “No.”
I’m not saying they said, “Yes” because… I don’t want to be misconstrued as saying they said, “Yes” out of fear. But I think it was really the fans and the boards, I think that was the little thing that just put us over the top.

Beth: Because they’ve gotta be wondering, “Hmm, maybe there could be something here.”

Dan: I think they’re absolutely thinking that. I think they’re going, “We have no idea what’s going on here, but SOMETHING is going on here.”

Beth: Right, and until they know what it is…

Dan: And until we know what it is, let’s get behind this show.

Beth: And didn’t I read somewhere on the HBO site that the after-the-season finale chat they did with Nick and Clancy was the biggest online chat HBO has ever had since they first started hosting them?

Dan: Yeah, by far. And not only that, but what’s been really frustrating to me -- and I’ll tell ya one thing I would like to… Ya know, and it’s always smart to diss critics… And I won’t. The criticism on the show has been very, very… Even though negative criticism, more often than not, are things I agree with a little bit, at least I understand it. But what I have been a little bit impatient with is the characterization of the show as having gotten “mixed reviews.” I’ve got copies of every review we got, and I’d say that about forty to fifty percent of them weren’t just positive, they were raves, and another twenty percent of them were positives, and then the balance of them were negative. The show was overwhelmingly well reviewed, from the very get-go. It just kinda bugs me when they say “critically mixed” and, ya know… It’s just, to me, I think one person reads that another guy is saying it, and it just becomes a self-perpetuating truth. The critics were fairly supportive of this thing from the beginning. And it bothers me that it seems as though… There was one guy who actually announced that the show was not being picked up.

Beth: Oh, I remember him…

Dan: And to me, that’s a tell. There were people who were really rooting against the show, and I think, in a way, it’s disingenuous… Cuz one of the big criticisms that these guys come out with is, “Hey, when are these guys gonna come out with something other than a cop show, a lawyer show, or a doctor show? There’s nothing on. They’re all the same shows. There’s no originality in television!” And then, here HBO makes this insanely, just takes this incredibly big risk on extremely challenging material, set in a time and a place nobody’s ever seen before, and they’re getting beat up for it. Ya know, I have a thing about fairness. I don’t care… Well, yes, I do care what they say about the show, because it’s important that people like the show in order for the show to survive, and the critics are people. But I think some of the raps this show has been taking really haven’t been fair.

Beth: Well, I think a lot of them took their frustrations with “Twin Peaks” out on you guys, which was bizarre. Like you all had anything to do with THAT!

Dan: Yeah, they started getting into this thing that it’s too self-referential and it’s too this or that, and “Twin Peaks” never paid off…

Beth: And so? That was them!

Dan: I kept emphasizing, look, there is a THERE there. And some guy even said, “Well, I’m not sure I believe Knauf when he says that.” And, well, in that case, that’s not my problem anymore. That’s the individual’s problem. But, you know, I got a feeling – and I’m hoping – that when there’s a critical reassessment of the show in the second season, and there usually is with HBO shows… And a lot of their shows don’t hit their stride until the second season, and you’ve gotta keep in mind a season at HBO is only twelve or thirteen episodes, so it usually takes that many episodes for a show just to hit its stride. So it’s really not surprising that it’s the second season that’s sort of where HBO series begin to feel like shows. But I think that we’re gonna be surprising an awful lot of people, and I’ve got a feeling that this is gonna… I’m hoping this becomes a popular success as well as a critical success this year.

Beth: Yeah, I’m all for that because we want to see this series continue past season two, as well. We want to see what happens!

Dan: Yeah, and I want to see what all the Newbies have to say!

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