James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal Host 'The Deuce' N.Y. Premiere

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Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco

HBO stars of the past and present joined network CEO Richard Plepler to celebrate the new TV series from executive producers David Simon, George Pelecanos and Nina Kostroff-Noble.

When David Simon — now in his 19th year writing and producing dramas for HBO — promoted his 2015 miniseries Show Me a Hero, he repeatedly likened the network to the Medicis, the Renaissance family of bankers and art patrons. At last night’s New York premiere of The Deuce, Simon thanked HBO for continuing to greenlight his series (The Wire, Treme), even though thus far they’ve “never” found an audience (he also joked that he’d resorted to a show about porn to reverse the trend).

HBO CEO Richard Plepler used his opening remarks to respond to Simon’s remarks. “I want to be very clear about this: We are not as nice as the Medicis,” said Plepler. “We are not as generous, actually, as the Medicis; we are much more competitive. … And I think what everybody in the country is about to see is some of the most extraordinary work that has ever been done for television.”

Castmembers from HBO touchstones The Sopranos (Edie Falco, Aida Turturro, Steven Van Zandt), Girls (Alex Karpovsky, Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (Susie Essman) reunited at Chelsea’s SVA Theatre to watch the pilot of The Deuce’s eight-episode first season, which airs Sunday in Game of Thrones’ time slot and became available on HBO’s streaming platforms last month. The episode introduces the glitter and grime of Times Square in 1971.

Franco leads the ensemble cast as identical twin protagonists Vincent and Frankie Martino (one’s responsible, one’s reckless); he also executive produces the show and directed two episodes. "In my mind I thought, 'All right, I’m committing six months or whatever, I want to be all in,' " said Franco.

In convincing co-creators Simon and George Pelecanos to let him direct that second episode, Franco said his aim was “not about having all the control,” something that was maintained by the showrunner and the network. “It’s about collaboration, and it’s about working with people that you respect and who are better than you,” he added.

The Deuce earned fellow lead Maggie Gyllenhaal — who plays Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a prostitute saving to support her young son — her first producer credit. “We were asking her to do a lot and to trust us, so we had to give her something, too,” said Pelecanos. "It turned out to be she’s really smart; her notes were good that she gave us, we used a lot of them." Gyllenhaal had similar praise for her “so interesting, so curious, so respectful [and] so collaborative” creators. “I’m sure there will be other times [as a producer] when I’ll be very disappointed, after working with David Simon and George Pelecanos.”

As Simon told THR, the writers room included writers who were female, black, gay and transgender because, he said, “This couldn’t be the boys' version of sex work and pornography. It had to be a real collective.”

Last year, HBO canceled Vinyl — another period piece about '70s New York, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter — after a single season. “We want three years,” Pelecanos told THR of The Deuce, explaining that future seasons would time-jump to the late '70s, then the '80s. Regardless of The Deuce’s fate, he’s pleased that “the reception’s been really good, [and] we’re proud of what we did. … Usually those two things don’t happen together.”