SANTA MONICA, Calif – The telephone rings in the modest office of famed television writer David Milch.
It is good news.
The 71-year-old Buffalo native was told he is being hired to run the second season of a program that was successful in year one.
He could use the work. And the money that comes with it.
The office of his production company, Red Board, is on a side street here in the same small house with old, battered furniture as it was a year ago. He lives with his wife, Rita, in a different house nearby.
Red Board is named after a horse-racing expression in which someone boasts about a winning wager after the race is over on information that wasn’t revealed before the race started,
Anyone who knows Milch well shouldn’t be surprised that he uses a horse racing term to name his company.
I reminded him of my favorite Milch story. We drove around in his car while he was on his way to the set of one of his shows. If memory serves me, it was his short-lived 2007 HBO series, “John From Cincinnati.” Before we exited his car, he grabbed a pile of cash that he had won at Santa Anita Race Track and took it with him.
Soon, he was distributing it to behind-the-scenes workers on the program. He’d give away $200 or more at a time for what he viewed as going the extra mile for him. It was like he was using Monopoly money and giving it away for passing “Go.”
The scene spoke to his well-known generosity. He did things like that a lot.
“Yeah, I must have,” said Milch, laughing.
He may have lost multimillions, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
A good deal has happened in the year since all the stories about how the man who made a reported $100 million writing and producing “Hill Street Blues,” co-creating “NYPD Blue” and creating “Deadwood” blew it all, mostly by gambling.
He is finishing work on a two-hour movie of “Deadwood,” the series that abruptly ended more than a decade ago.
He is hoping that all the actors in the acclaimed, popular series, including Ian McShane, will come back.
“They are pretty receptive,” Milch said.
Why did the series end when it was still popular?
“It had been a long pull,” said Milch, who says he is now excited about bringing it back. It made one wonder if many unresolved elements of the program set in the Wild West will be resolved. He doesn’t expect there to be more than one “Deadwood” movie.
“We are going to resolve about 18 percent, if not more,” cracked Milch.
It was a joke or an exaggeration. Friends who know Milch are used to his creative exaggerations.
HBO passed on a new Milch project, “Shadow Country,” based on a Peter Matthiessen novel about a land developer who is a serial killer.
“I had written five episodes, and there was a change in HBO leadership,” Milch said.
Milch said he’ll be the subject of a book by a New York journalist he has known for a long time, Mark Kriegel.
“We’ve done some damage together,” said Milch.
Of course, Milch’s life already has been an open book.
“Yeah it has,” he said. “That’s his problem. I have known him for some time.”
He said he now works seven days a week, getting up at 4 a.m. to start writing.
“It gives me half a chance.”
He doesn’t dwell on the past. He said a lawsuit against his business managers may be four months away from going to trial.
Milch believes the story about his being a reported $17 million in debt was leaked to the trade publications Variety and the Hollywood Reporter and other publications a year ago to embarrass him.
“That wasn’t pleasant,” Milch said of the story. “They were hoping to shame me out of going forward with it.”
What was the initial reaction?
“Well, it wasn’t wild enthusiasm,” he said, smiling. Nor was there much sympathy, he said.
“There wasn’t an absence of sympathy. I am kind of an undecipherable commodity to a lot of people, including myself. Because of that, nothing surprises people particularly.”
He is pleased to have the support of his wife and their three children. He proudly notes that his daughter Olivia wrote and directed a movie, “Dude,” that is about to be released and added that she is working on a remake of “Oceans 11” with an all-female cast. He also said they may eventually work together on a project that HBO announced years ago adapting William Faulkner’s works.
“I’m grateful for my family, I had a good turn at the plate,” Milch said.
“The thing I would ask you to emphasize is what a constructive presence my wife has been in my life. I would have no life without her. Our children are doing very well. And we have four dogs and she walks them religiously three times a day and talks to them constantly because she is the sweetest soul that God ever made.”
A year after the story of his debt, Milch said he is “fine.”
“I’m not saying I’m wealthy. The best thing that ever happened to me in that context was turning everything over to Rita. And the business people. I am on a leash. That’s not the end of the world.
“The paradox is that money never meant anything to me,” said Milch. “And it still doesn’t, except now as an occasion for regret in that there are things that I want to make sure my family is protected when I pass. It may be for one reason or another if I’m not able to work, that would be a cause for distress. But I’m still pitching. Thank God, I’m still in possession of my gift. And I have the love of my family. And for the rest, they can kiss my (expletive).” And he smiled when he finished that sentence.