Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Have Died of Dysentery Author Alterations

WHILE BURNING THROUGH SEASON ONE of HBO's mighty fine cowboys 'n' profanity epic Deadwood, I ran into a couple of sequences (mild spoilers ahead) that would bring a laugh to any editor who has had to deal with too many anxious cooks eager to season the broth—or a typesetter whose constituents have to tinker when you're straining at the bit to go to press.

Smallpox has come to the gold-rush camp of Deadwood, and the town's leading business interests —including saloon owner and whoremaster, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane); his rival in the whiskey and flesh trades, Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe); and hotel manager/Swearengen underling E.B. Farnum (William Sanderson) — have pooled their funds to send out missions for vaccine and establish a quarantine tent. The next bullet point on their plan is to place a story in the camp's daily broadsheet to forestall panic by portraying them as being one step ahead of the outbreak.

This brings the three suddenly civic-minded rogues to the office of the Deadwood Pioneer, helping its reporter, editor, and publisher, A.W. Merrick (Jeffrey Jones) write the feel-good piece that will keep the booze-, tail-, and gamble-happy prospectors who line their pockets from dropping their sieves and vamoosing.

Merrick, his fingers glossy with ink, reads back the last sentence: "'Thanks also to the aforementioned merchants, the vaccine will be distributed gratis.'"

Al: "'Free gratis.'"

Merrick: "'Free gratis' is a redundancy."

[Al looks askance at Sy and E.B.]

E.B.: "Does that mean, 'repeats itself'?"

[Merrick nods.]

Al: "Then leave 'gratis' out."

Merrick [writing]: "What luck for me, Al, that you have such a keen editorial sense. 'Free.' 'Distributed free.' Period. It will take me some time to reset the type—"

Al: "Yeah, hurry up!"

You just can't move fast enough for some clients.

Later that day, as Merrick prints the first proof, Sy, Al, and E.B. are there to greet it. They look on expectantly and a bit mystified as Merrick peels a page off the type.

Merrick [inspects the first page]; "Gentlemen—"

Al: "Come on, let's see it!" [snatches it away]

Merrick: "Or should I say, my fellow authors?"

[Said authors zero in on the article as Merrick watches.]

Al: "I think maybe it should have a question mark: 'The Plague in Deadwood?'"

Merrick: "The type is set. You're reading the definitive edition."

Al [looks at other two, shrugs]: "Let's run it."

Of course, not all audiences are appreciative of the careful choices an editorial team makes in selecting the mot juste:

Al [that night, reading the paper in his saloon while his flunky, Dan Dority, looks on]: "Merrick! Merrick wanted to put here, 'Gratis.' Now is the idea to inform your readers, or to make them feel like a fucking dunce? Huh? I had to put in 'free.'"

Dan: "I don't see why the fuck he doesn't have news of the baseball."

Guys. Always with the sports pages.

All images © Home Box Office, Inc.


Anonymous said...

I remember that ep. Although Al was a right on kinda fella he like to cut things to the chaise
I miss deadwood

Schizohedron said...

Having completed the series, I gotta say, as awful as some of Al's methods were, there was always a code guiding his actions. The gods of the frontier help those on the wrong side of it, but you can't spite Al for being consistent.