His whole argument comes down to this one disingenuous paragraph, which I'll quote at greater length than I did below here:
Deadwood is great, yet it has not yet achieved a critical mass of buzz, maybe because the Western really is dead as a mass entertainment, or because the show is too much in the mold of The Sopranos. Six Feet Under had a buzzy launch and came close to must-see status, but the final-season plunge of pretty much every character into anger, depression, hopelessness, or insanity has alienated even cultists (ratings are down almost 18 percent from last year). The Wire is a remarkably excellent drama about drugs and corruption in Baltimore, but in the three years since it premiered, no one has ever mentioned it to me. Buzz can’t be quantified, but the HBO metric that most closely tracks it, perhaps, is the percentage of a show’s audience eager enough to watch each episode the first time it airs. For The Sopranos, it’s 60 percent; for Entourage and Deadwood, it’s closer to 40 percent.
What is it about TV critics that they have to compare every HBO show to The Sopranos? In what way is Deadwood like The Sopranos? While Swearengen is a very, very rough approximation of Tony Soprano, where is the Sopranos analogue to Seth Bullock or Sol Star or the Widow Garrett or any number of characters from the far deeper, richer Deadwood? In Deadwood all the action takes place in an entirely violent, savage, and corrupt outside world. The characters have no choice but to act in the violent, savage, and corrupt ways they often do, and nearly all of them have some amount of sensitivity and tenderness in them despite some of their actions. Those who don't - Farnum, Tolliver, are presented as out and out villains or fools. The Sopranos takes place in our world, in modern day New York and New Jersey where the vast majority of people don't act antisocially, violently, or criminally. The characters have the choice not to act the way they do, which is why their dysfunctional and criminal behavior is so depressing and alienating for the viewer. And, it's made all the more so when some characters try to escape the life and inevitably fail, like Steve Buscemi's character last season. The Sopranos asks to care about (and root for?) people who are acting like we're still living in the newly settled frontier of Deadwood when we're not. While The Sopranos tackles the petty squabbles of a New Jersey mob family that causes most of its problems itself, Deadwood portrays complex, sympathetic characters contending with fate, government, big business. It portrays the struggles of America itself.
And if we're saying that Tony really is an analogue to Swearengen do we really want to make that comparison? Either as characters or as mob bosses? Swearengen eats Tony alive on all counts. While Tony's off acting like some mopey Gen-X gangster, snorting cocaine and almost sleeping with his soldier's woman, Swearegen is on top of his game mere days after having a stroke and passing gall stones, always on point, always making plays and giving orders. And would you rather listen to Tony whine or Al give one of his brilliant profane-yet-grand speeches?
As for the rest, I'd given up on Six Feet Under last season with the ridiculous David gets kidnapped and tortured plotline, but they won me over with their brilliant season opener this year and so far have had a surprisingly strong final season. I know many people who feel the same way. I don't know why he mentions the ratings figure for Six Feet when elsewhere he admits that ratings don't matter because HBO sells subscriptions not ads. I've already tackled his ridiculous statement about The Wire, which reveals more about the bizarrely close-minded HBO habits of the cultural elite than anything else.
The part about buzz is really the point of the entire piece. Namely, that HBO is losing it. Yet, it's confusing because sometimes buzz seems to mean popular appeal and sometimes it seems to mean artistic quality. He shifts every time it's more convenient for his argument. He admits that HBO's business is still profitable and that its still showing great stuff like Deadwood. He also admits that ratings don't matter for HBO and that ratings don't equal buzz, yet then he throws in some bullshit metric for buzz that essentially amounts to buzz being ratings. By the end of piece he's saying we should take heart because there's good stuff coming like Rome and Ricky Gervais's Extras and that Entourage is catching on with the chattering classes (his real definition of buzz, but he's apparently too ashamed of his elitism to admit it). So, what was the point of this column again? Oh yeah, that HBO is losing its buzz - even though he can't explain what this means other than that his friends aren't talking about The Wire - but the buzz will be back. Even if he could prove the momentary dip in buzzworthiness it this really a substantive enough issue to drive a column, even a media column? God I wish I had Andersen's job. I can write unsupported drivel about unimportant stuff too. Where do I apply?