'Entourage' creator Doug Ellin on how 'wave of righteous PC culture' impacted HBO show's legacy
During its eight-season run on HBO, Entourage was one of the cable network’s most successful series, consistently scoring positive reviews, strong ratings and numerous Emmy nominations for its behind-the-scenes portrayal of early 21st century Hollywood. According to creator Doug Ellin, though, HBO has given the series the cold shoulder since it left the airwaves a decade ago in 2011.
“I resent it tremendously,” Ellin tells Yahoo Entertainment, chalking up his former employer’s skittishness to the same “wave of righteous PC culture” that he feels has engulfed Entourage in recent years, as Hollywood has reckoned with the excesses of its recent history. “Nobody says that about The Sopranos, where they murder people, that maybe we should readdress whether murdering people on TV is OK,” he notes. “I don’t want to sound obnoxious or that I'm looking at Entourage as high art, but it was a pretty accurate portrayal of how people [acted] at that time in Hollywood.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Ellin even thinks that the retroactive backlash to Entourage cost him a second HBO series — one that, coincidentally enough, would have starred a major Sopranos cast member. “I did a pilot with Michael Imperioli, Michael Rappaport and Ed Burns that they passed on, which I’ll never forgive them for” he says now. “Whether they thought it was good or not, I earned my chance to have a second shot, and they put some other pretty crappy shows on [instead].” After the Entourage feature film was released to underwhelming reviews and box office in 2015, Ellin was ready to stop talking about the series altogether. “Unfortunately, the movie didn’t work as well as some may have hoped, and you kind of move on. How much can you say about it?”
As it turns out, Ellin still has plenty to say about Entourage. In the summer of 2020, Entourage star-turned-podcast entrepreneur Kevin Connolly, aka Eric “E” Murphy, convinced Ellin and fellow cast member Kevin Dillon, aka Johnny “Drama” Chase, to hop on the mic for Victory the Podcast, a no-holds-barred look back at the show featuring guest appearances by many of the actors who played major and minor characters during its run. (The title, of course, comes from Drama’s signature catchphrase.)
Since its launch last June, Victory — which is produced by Connolly’s podcast network, ActionPark Media — has steadily inched up in the podcast rankings, and regularly averages over 100,000 downloads. “Getting back together with these guys has been so much fun and it’s brought [back] all of the memories of what a great time we had doing it,” Ellin says. “I think it’s also brought a lot of interest back to the show and a lot of positivity that the show used to have before the culture shifted a little bit.”
When it premiered in 2004, Entourage painted such a convincing portrait of the film industry that Ellin remembers many viewers initially assuming it was a documentary. And the series famously had its roots in real life: he based the characters on the members of Mark Wahlberg’s entourage, who accompanied him around town during his rise to Hollywood’s A-List in the 1990s. The rapper-turned-actor executive-produced the series and appeared in the pilot as himself — an attention-grabbing cameo that announced the way the series would mingle real actors with the fictional characters at its center.
Wahlberg’s onscreen counterpart is Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), a Queens-born actor who navigates the politics of Hollywood with a three-man crew that includes E, Drama and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). On the business side, his career is overseen by temperamental agent Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven in a performance that won him three consecutive Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmys.
One of the frequent topics of conversation on Victory is whether Entourage could be remade today. And it’s worth noting that HBO has already brought back two other signature shows from that era. This fall, David Chase will release The Many Saints of Newark, a Sopranos prequel film starring James Gandolfini’s son as a young Tony Soprano. Meanwhile, a Sex and the City sequel series is currently in the works for HBO Max reuniting all of the original cast, minus Kim Cattrall.
Ellin makes it clear that he’s ready to bring back Entourage, although HBO hasn’t asked. In fact, the creator says that the network has almost gone out of its way not to promote the series on its streaming service. “For a while, we were hiding in, like, ‘wish-fulfillment shows,’” he says. “We were nominated for the Emmys or the Golden Globes almost every single year, so to not put us on the must-see comedy list was pretty bizarre.”
Even if HBO does a 180 and orders fresh Entourage episodes tomorrow, Ellin says that he’s well aware that he can’t write the same show that ran for eight seasons and a movie. “I don't think Entourage was this vulgar boyfest that people like to paint it as now,” he says. “When we came out, the New York Times said we were the smartest show on television! If we did reboot the show, it’s not that I would make it any more PC, but I would write it to the best of my abilities to reflect the reality of the world right now."
"At the time, it was an extremely realistic depiction of this town, but what the show was about was friendship and loyalty and family," Ellin continues. "Those are the things that I hope people will take away from it long after the rest quiets down. I think there’s an overcorrection that happened, and hopefully we’ll get to a place where there’s equality for everybody, but there’s also room for people to create their art and not be judged so harshly.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Ellin discusses how Entourage would navigate the post #MeToo era of Hollywood, which character would be cancelled in the reboot and why Adrian Grenier has resisted appearing on Victory.
Yahoo Entertainment: Victory started off as an episode-by-episode rewatch of Entourage, but you moved away from that format pretty quickly.
Doug Ellin: People want to hear that, which is great, but I'd like it to be bigger than that. It’s a little bit of a battle that [Kevin] Connolly and I had in the beginning: it had to Entourage this and that, and I kept pushing to move outside of that. For example, Kevin Dillon was off doing a movie, so we had Charlie Sheen guest host for him. Charlie is someone I’ve been a fan of my entire life, so it’s weird for me to be someone who was in high school watching Platoon with him and Kevin, and thinking, “I hope someday that I can be in the business.” And then here I are working with both of them! It’s been very, very fun.
Mark Wahlberg hasn’t appeared on Victory yet. Do you think he would do it? What’s his relationship to Entourage these days?
I hope he would do it! I’ve kind of kept it to guests that are easy for me to get at the moment. I’ll reach out to Mark soon. He’s always been the best regarding Entourage, but I haven’t had any conversations with him about it since the movie came out. I think we were all disappointed because the Entourage fans really liked it, but we hit the #MeToo movement right in the face and that’s all the critics focused on, even though it was kind of what we did on the show that had been so positively received for years before that.
We should also get a status update on Adrian Grenier. People who listen to the podcast know that you’ve tried to get him on, and he’s said that he doesn’t want to appear. You joke about it, but it does sound like there may be some hurt feelings there.
Just to be crystal clear, a lot of what we do on a podcast is trying to be fun. I love Adrian, and I hope he has no issue with me that I don’t know about. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years, and I have no explanation for why he won’t be on the podcast. I don’t have hard feelings about it, but I would prefer that he came on! Obviously everybody has to make their own decisions for what they want. I don't think that shadow [of the show] has been a negative, and I think that all of the good stuff that he’s doing for the environment, we have a good platform that can help with that. So hopefully he’ll see that and come on. I spoke to him and he basically said, “Give me some time.” He didn't appreciate that the fans were coming after him [on social media], which I can’t control. I don’t run the internet! But the fans do want to hear from him and hear his experiences, so I think he’d been an interesting guest, because out of all the actors he’s the most different from his character on the show.
Yeah, you’ve mentioned on the podcast that you were originally looking for a Mark Wahlberg type, and that’s definitely not who Adrian is.
When we found Adrian, it was an incredible blessing, because we tried to cast that part for a year. There were times where HBO was like, “You’re never going to find a guy who we can believe as a movie star.” But Adrian really popped on camera. People were like, “Oh my god, who is that guy?” And it's not just because he’s a handsome guy; he’s got a way that he carries himself with that performance that is incredibly underrated. There was no show without him, and there was no second choice. There really aren’t a lot of Mark Wahlbergs out there, and the Adrian type worked better for us. So it all worked out, and eventually it’ll work out on the podcast. At first, Jeremy [Piven] didn’t want to do it either, but we got him to do it.
There’s a lot of talk on the podcast about whether the show could be rebooted now, and I want to approach that in a few ways. The dynamic between Rex Lee and Jeremy Piven and Lloyd and Ari is a big part of the show. We’re speaking after the publication of The Hollywood Reporter’s story about Scott Rudin’s workplace behavior: how would that change that relationship now?
I think that most people who came up as assistants would say that Ari’s dialogue to Lloyd was the least of the problems that they dealt with in life. While not excusing anyone who talks that way — because they shouldn’t — I was writing a character. I was not going, “This is how people should speak.” The real Ari Emanuel, who it was based on, was very proud of that character 10 years ago, and very proud to let people know that it was based on him.
But the most important thing to me was that while some of the words that Ari said, which clearly would never be tolerated in 2021 in an office setting, he was always looking out for Lloyd. I was an assistant once, and I quit New Line Cinema after someone spoke to me in extremely derogatory terms. Hopefully that will not exist in the workplace, but as we know there are people who can't control what their inner personalities are — and a character on TV should never be looked at as if they are the writer or the actor behind that person. At the end of the day, I will always hope for young people to have a boss like Ari, who actually does care about them while also preferring he doesn’t speak to anyone like that.
We’re in the #MeToo era now, which changes the dynamics of how your characters would interact with women on the show. How would you incorporate that aspect of modern Hollywood into a reboot?
You know, Autumn Reeser was recently on the podcast, and I watched one of her episodes that I hadn’t watched in years. [Reeser played Lizzie Grant, who had an affair with a senior agent at Ari’s agency.] I thought, “Wow, we actually handled this really well.” The way that Ari tried to remove himself from the personal things that were going on in the office, I think is appropriate. Interoffice relationships are going to happen… because humans are humans. So I think it's important that the powers that be respect and deal with it in appropriate manners. What was interesting is looking at Autumn and Ari going at each other in that episode, it was actually a little ahead of its time for what was coming.
So when people want to talk about, “Oh, some of the women on Entourage were depicted in certain ways,” that’s how there were people in this town. The actresses that we brought in — whether it was Carla Gugino or Emmanuelle Chriqui or Perrey Reeves — have spoken about how much those characters helped them in their future careers, and how rare it was to see a woman who could stand up and look a man in the face 15 years ago and do the things that they were doing. I feel very proud of that. The executives at HBO that I was dealing were female executives who were very proud of the show at the time, and read every script and gave me their thoughts. I love and respect women and love great female characters and always have, and did the best I could. At the same time, it was a 30-minute show with five male leads, so the fact that we were even able to find time to get in the women we did, I feel very proud of.
You had a Harvey Weinstein-like character on the show, Harvey Weingard, played by Maury Chaykin. Were you aware of actual stories about Weinstein that you integrated into the show?
Of course I was, but not the stories that came out. What’s so nuts is right when that story broke, my cell phone rings and it’s TMZ, and they throw me on the spot and ask me why I didn’t incorporate some of the sexual allegations about Harvey into the show. Of course, I didn’t know of anything about that. I had my own personal interactions with Harvey Weinstein, who, by the way, still owes me $50,000 for a script I wrote eight years ago! I knew Harvey to be a bully, which I wrote into the first episode. I was sitting in my office on New Year’s Eve, and Kevin Connolly calls me from a bar, saying, “I just ran into Harvey Weinstein and he said, he’s going to kill you. He didn’t like that episode and he’s going to kill you.” Kevin wasn’t joking! So I came up with the next episode where Harvey Weingard takes a knife to E and says, “I killed people.” If I had known anything about the real allegations, I would have never done anything light and comedic with it. What I knew is that he was a bully, and that’s what I portrayed.
The other thing that would be different now is Vincent’s path to stardom. I don’t see how that progresses in the same way anymore.
It’s so strange to look back and see how things have changed since then. When I started, there was no TMZ and no social media. You learned about actors through their roles for the most part, getting little glimpses of them in interviews. And now they’re their own personalities and brands! Mark Wahlberg has a new show on HBO Max [Wahl Street] that shows him as more of a businessman than a movie star. And on the podcast the other day, we brought on one of the biggest TikTok stars in the world, Josh Richards, who reminded me a little bit of Mark when I first met him. People dismiss him as this pretty boy who is dancing on TikTok, but this kid had three businesses by the time that he was 16 that had nothing to do with social media.
It’s going to be interesting to see what the business is like in 20 years, because I don’t think anyone comes in and says, “I just want to be this kind of artist,” anymore. They want to be this global empire. And I actually appreciate it, because when I got to Hollywood, I didn’t know a single person. I just hoped that people would like my script! I think it's really interesting now that talent can get out their message themselves, and people can decide whether that's for them or not. They don’t have to let the politics of any one studio determine what is going to be on or not.
If you did bring Entourage back, would you start from the ground up or would you have some of the original cast still in it?
The show I’m working on right now is called Day 1’s [based on French football star Thierry Henry] and people will ultimately go, “Oh, it’s Entourage in this world!” Which it’s funny, because I’m not allowed to do that, but a million other people are based on the amount of Entourages that have been done since our show. But on that show we’ll deal with [stardom] how it is now, and hopefully will depict it in the realistic way that I did with Entourage. But if I did a reboot of Entourage, I would never do it it without those five guys, and then as many of the other people as I could back, from Perrey to Carla.
We like to make jokes on the podcast about casting John Mayer as Vince if Adrian really didn’t want to do it, but those five guys are the way it would have to be. Of course it’s going to be written in a slightly kinder, gentler way because that's the world we live in. But I’d love to catch up with these guys and see how Ari navigates the world. To be honest, I’d love to see how real the real Ari Emanuel goes into the office every day now, because I know about his fire and passion. Ari was a guy who would walk into the office and leave his mark, and I don’t know how he does that today.
Do you think the movie came out to soon? Like if you had waited another few years, you would have been able to really deal with all the changes?
I think it came a moment too late and a lot too early, because we got delayed by almost two years with some nonsense behind the scenes. The #MeToo movement wasn’t there yet, but it was percolating and the comments that people made about the movie clearly reflected that. When people look back on it, it's in a much softer light, which is great and hopefully that trend continues. I'm proud of everything we did on Entourage, and I certainly don’t think it’s something that should be a lightning rod. It should be looked at for what it was, which was a group of friends who really loved each other and cared about each other — money and all of that other stuff meant nothing to them.
You revealed on the podcast that you had an alternate Season 8 planned where Vince died. I don’t know if that was serious or not.
That was absolutely serious. Mark [Wahlberg] talked me out of that. At the time, a lot of people kept saying, “Nothing bad ever happen son Entourage.” So I thought, I’m going to make people lose their minds when Vince is dead! But Mark was right: he called me up and said, “Fans love this show and love these guys, and don’t want bad things to happen to them.” Even in Season 7, when Vince got into drugs, there were a lot of people who were very upset about that. That was loosely inspired by Charlie Sheen, even though I hadn’t met him at the time. When you’re making a show, you’re always trying to please yourself, but you’re also trying to please your audience. Sometimes those things can work and sometimes they don’t.
Which character would be canceled in the reboot? I feel like that’s a storyline that would have to happen.
I don’t know if I would get into all that! [Laughs] Drama would clearly be the guy who wouldn’t understand why he got canceled, but I’m hoping that people are starting to learn what the right things are that you should be motivated by and how you can actually help the problems that are going on rather than hurting. By that I mean that some people are coming out and defending things that clearly are indefensible and we'll hopefully learn how to get on the side of things. There needs to be a reckoning and social injustices need to address in certain ways, but just attacking every single thing that comes out is, is in my mind, very dangerous.
I’m hoping that if we ever did reboot the show, which is a year or two away, that kind of cancel culture [will go away] — on both sides, by the way, because I think it’s funny how the right has made cancel culture a cause of the left. I hope reason will start to exist and both sides will come together. I look at the media as the biggest blame for what’s going on right now. I think they incite everything on both sides. I hope we find a way around it, because I think it’s a really scary time and probably the scariest time of the last 30 years, you know?
Is cancel culture something you’re looking to comment on in your new show or the Entourage revival?
Well, listen, I’m 53 years old and when I was writing as a 30 year old — again, I’m not apologizing for anything — but young guys who are out and about in Hollywood are looking to meet women. That's never going to go away, but I just wouldn’t write it [now]. Not because anyone's telling me not to, it's just not anything that's on my brain at the moment. So the new show, which is also about young guys, will be youthful, edgy, and cool, but they will be of the moment and of the time. Mark used to say to me, “The Hangover owes you a billion dollars,” because Entourage kind of helped bring R-rated comedy back. The stuff that I liked growing up, Animal House etc., that really was not in favor, and the Judd Apatow movies kind of came after that. Again, I’m not saying I inspired Judd Apatow! But my point is that when I sold Entourage, I said, “I want to write a show where young men speak the way young men actually speak. I don’t see that on TV.”
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo
Entourage is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Watch our full interview with Doug Ellin on YouTube
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