Beverly Hills, Calif. — The Knick, a period drama starring Oscar nominee Clive Owen (Closer) and directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), seems to have all the qualities of a classic HBO show except one — it’s not on HBO.
The show, which was just renewed for a second season, premieres Aug. 8 on Cinemax, just the place Soderbergh, who directs all 10 episodes of the debut season, wanted it. “I kind of wanted to be the big kid at a small school,” Soderbergh said Thursday at the Summer TCA Press Tour panel for the show.
He said he talked to Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, and asked for the show to be on Cinemax, which is owned by HBO. “It was an ego problem” Soderbergh said, but “creatively it all worked out perfect.”
The Knick takes place in 1900 at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital and centers around Dr. John W. Thackery (Owen), the brilliant but drug-addicted surgeon. The hospital is fictional, said cocreator and writer Michael Begler, but the surgeries were based on documented procedures and the hiring of African Americans and their relationships with other characters were likewise based on history.
“This was a wild time and doctors were the new hero,” said Jack Amiel, the show’s other cocreator and writer. “Thackery is forcing himself into the future. Cocaine allows him not to look back,” especially when surgeons at the time had body counts behind them.
It’s that complexity that drew Owen, who said he initially wasn’t sure he wanted to commit to 10 hours of television, but he read the pilot and “40 minutes later, there was no way I wasn’t going to do it.”
“His complex, brilliant passion is about forwarding the whole world of medicine, but he’s a very difficult, complicated, functioning addict at the same time,” Owen said. “It’s not about being likeable or making things easy … as an actor I love the challenge of taking that on.”
That challenge is not unlike Cinemax’s — for its new show to live up to the best of HBO — but The Knick looks to have the right tools at its disposal.
Other highlights from the panel included:
• Soderbergh explained his rationale for directing every episode: “There’s a positive aspect of having a visual language that is very specific and very, very unified throughout the show.”
• Andre Holland, who plays Dr. Algernon Edwards, said he connected his character to W. E. B. Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness. Holland added that working with Soderbergh and Owen was “like a master class in acting every day.”