EXCLUSIVE: We need to qualify Steven Soderbergh‘s self-imposed retirement from the business with an asterisk: feature films only. Just as his final film Behind The Candelabra airs this Sunday on HBO, Soderbergh is in talks to team with Clive Owen on The Knick, a period series set in New York in 1900. I’m told that he and Owen will set this series at Cinemax, which will give him a 10-episode season commitment. Soderbergh will direct all of the episodes. The setting: downtown New York in 1900, a tumultuous time of massive change and great progress. The series centers around the groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff at Knickerbocker Hospital, who are pushing the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics. Jack Amiel & Michael Begler wrote the pilot on spec, and they will be executive producers on the series. Owen and Soderbergh are also executive producers and so are Anonymous Content’s Michael Sugar and Soderbergh’s longtime producer Gregory Jacobs.
While this might make some might look cynically on Soderbergh’s “retirement,” he told me the other day in an interview for the Michael Douglas-Matt Damon Liberace movie that for the moment, he has shut the door on feature films. I can see that he likes the energy present in pay and basic cable TV, and it would be like him to try helping re-brand Cinemax by giving that network an event series, rather than setting it at HBO which has a wealth of great series already. HBO and Cinemax are under one roof, so this is easy to finesse. Soderbergh has experience with series, having directed the episodes and exec produced K Street, the HBO-based series done with George Clooney when they together operated the production company Section Eight. As for Owen, he most recently played Ernest Hemingway in the HBO telepic Hemingway & Gellhorn opposite Nicole Kidman, and he did TV work early in his career, including the Brit series Chancer, which was his breakout series.
And if you still want to snivel about Soderbergh’s retirement, remember how nice it was when Michael Jordan put away his baseball bat and went back to basketball? The notion of Soderbergh and Owen teaming to add yet another must-watch feature-centric series in the cable landscape is exciting, if you ask me. I believe that production on this will begin in the fall. The broadcaster was not commenting.