As it enters its eighth and final season, Entourage finds the boys back where they started. Vince is seeking to recapture his star status after a stint in rehab; Johnny is reigniting his TV career via the cartoon Johnny’s Bananas; Turtle is looking for a business venture he can truly call his own; and Eric is struggling with the balance between manager and best friend. And Ari, of course, is Ari — though during an argument with his estranged wife, viewers will get to see him rendered speechless for perhaps the very first time in the show’s history. Series creator Doug Ellin has seen these guys through a lot; he’s obviously deeply attached to his characters, and soon hopes to shepherd their testosterone-laden Hollywood fairy tale into a big-screen event. We spoke to Ellin about coming back from his controversial seventh season, surviving backlash, and the amazing thing Tina Fey said to him at the Emmys.
Tell me about coming back from last season. Frankly, it was the first time I ever found Vince hard to like.
[Laughs.] Which I so just don’t get, but I don’t know. I mean, he still was looking out for everybody! He’s a guy who’s been taking care of all these guys for all this time and he had a bad couple of weeks. But anyway, I wanted to get back to the early roots of the show, and get back to the guys sticking together, really looking out for each other. I wanted it to be a little lighter this season; obviously, the third episode is pretty dark, but I think we come out of that in a good way that’s realistic but also comedic.
With the idea of a movie coming up, how has that affected the way this season is shaping up?
It didn’t at all. I wish I was smart enough — everybody’s like, “Oh, you gotta leave it open, and do this and this.” Every year I do the best I can and it ends somewhere and hopefully it satisfies. But it has nothing to do with any plan for the movie, because at this point there is no plan except [that] we’re gonna do one.
No plan at all?
Really none. The only thing is I’d like them to go to Europe.
When Sex and the City made the transition to film, everyone embraced the first movie and hated the second. Does that kind of fan backlash scare you?
I mean, obviously I’m scared. I’m scared every season — not of a backlash, but you’d like to be successful. I could only hope we’d have even close to the success that the SaTC had. I would obviously be thrilled. But you know what? You do what you do. Clearly with last year, I took the show in a different direction. I’ve never worried what anyone was going to say. I try to write what comes out and what seems right for the characters. We had some criticism for a while that we did the same thing over and over, which I felt was somewhat ridiculous — but last year I did something completely different, and then there was criticism, like, “Oh, they’re crazy!” So you can’t worry about it. You’ve gotta do the best you can, and hopefully I can find a good story that interests me, and then hopefully other people like it.
Did you read Tina Fey’s anecdote in her book Bossypants, about pumping breast milk to episodes of Entourage?
Tina had a great line to me and [Entourage producer] Rob Weiss at the Emmys four years ago. We were like, “You’re just gonna beat us every year, huh?” And she looked at us deadpan and said, “Yeah, but I’m sure you guys get more pussy than I do.” I love Tina, and I’m glad if she was watching the show. Hopefully she wasn’t being sarcastic!
I don’t think so — she says she was sad when she ran out of episodes. Although there was a joke on 30 Rock …
There was an Entourage joke?
One character was talking about fan campaigns to save shows, and he says, “They sent light bulbs to Friday Night Lights, hot sauce to Roswell, and douche bags to Entourage!”
[Laughs.] I mean, I just don’t get that. I don’t know. I know there’s some backlash against some of our talent, but we’ve have some of the nicest actors and the nicest crew for eight years, and I’m not sure which those douche bags would be.
Has anything been happening with your Mary Tyler Moore–meets-Entourage show idea? I was really intrigued by that, since Entourage is such a male world.
Yeah, [Entourage writer and producer] Ally Musika was working on that and I was going to produce it with her. I’m not sure whether she’s still motivated to do it or not. But I’m working on this new show for HBO now that I start in October, so I’m not sure what will happen with that.
What’s the new HBO show?
It’s called 40 with Eddie Burns. It’s kind of a grown-up Entourage. We shoot in October; we’re casting right now. And then I’m producing something with Spike Lee, loosely inspired by Mike Tyson’s life. But I’m sure they’ll trash me for everything. [Laughs.] What are you gonna do?
You can’t listen! If people are watching, people are watching.
You know, you can’t listen. We had our best ratings last year. We’re suddenly not in the Emmy race anymore, so you start to question that: What’s so bad? But I know we had our best ratings, the fans liked it, and I feel that we have a strong ending. There’s been some kind of weird backlash. Like, if Jeremy Piven doesn’t win an Emmy for this season coming up, I just don’t know what to say. It has to be that people just don’t like him as a human being, because he’s so good. He won three in a row, and now they don’t even talk about it. He’s not even discussed as, “Wow, he got a snub” or anything. Which I find bizarre, because he’s as good as ever, and this year coming up, he’s especially great. So we’ll see what happens.