Q&A: Doug Ellin

Doug Ellin's 'Entourage' has plenty more to say about the industry

Six seasons in, "Entourage," HBO's little comedy about four friends on the make in Hollywood, has become a consistent ratings hit and a surprise Emmy contender (including three wins for co-star Jeremy Piven, who, as everyone's grandmother knows, plays an amped-up version of WME topper Ari Emanuel). As the show returns Sunday, its creator, Doug Ellin, is successfully balancing two distinct audiences: those toiling inside the Hollywood bubble and the millions of outsiders looking in.

The Hollywood Reporter: Have any story lines caused trouble for you with people in the business?

Doug Ellin: Honestly, I've been so fortunate that this town has really embraced the show. We're not usually mean-spirited; there are a couple of nasty jokes, but they're usually based on personal relationships with someone that either I don't like or that someone involved in the show doesn't like. But most of the town really likes the show, so they'll come up to me and say, "You gotta do this; have you done this?" I haven't had any real, "What the hell are you doing?" instances.

THR: What's surprising is how much non-industry people care about whether Johnny Drama's series gets picked up.

Ellin: There were times when HBO would say, "Do you think people outside Hollywood will get this?" And I'd say, "You don't need to care because as long as they're speaking in ways that are realistic, audiences will follow along and start to get it." The most important thing about the show is, at the end of the day, with all the Hollywood stuff, it's about friendship. Once audiences can relate to Vince or care about Ari, they can relate to their careers as if they were any other career, from a fireman to a stockbroker.

THR: But your characters' lives are charmed. Do you worry about painting an unrealistic picture of showbiz life?

Ellin: When I talk to people who are fans of the show, they want to see happy times. Last year they were depressed because things didn't seem to work out -- 11 episodes were really downbeat, and then in the 12th it did work out. But the show is partly based on (executive producer) Mark Wahlberg's life. Fortunately, his life worked out. This year I'm going to focus less on the movie-star life and more on the surrounding guys and how their stuff may not work out.

THR: You're a Brooklyn-born, Long Island-raised guy, and the show always has had an outsider-in-Hollywood feel. Has that helped audiences relate to this insidery business?

Ellin: For sure. New Yorkers come to this place with -- I don't think it's a jaded view but an eyes-wide-open, skeptical view. That's why I wanted to cast all New Yorkers, and with the exception of Jeremy they are all authentic New Yorkers. I hate talking about this, though, because my kids are from Beverly Hills, and when I think about them walking around town at 19 or 20 and saying they're from Beverly Hills, I shudder. I literally freak out.

THR: Not only has President Obama declared "Entourage" his favorite show, but also Ari Gold's real-life counterpart has a brother, Rahm Emanuel, in the White House. You've got some powerful allies.

Ellin: It's a funny thing because what I've found is some of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country are watching this show. I think it's because there is an underlying smartness that a lot of people don't get that relates to how most successful people rose to the top. You need that group around you; you need a couple of breaks and good fortune. That's what we try to tap into. To have Obama say he watches and gets it -- well, he's got that same crowd around him, and it was an amazing thing to hear. Hopefully, it'll keep us on -- at least through next year.

THR: One small bone to pick with you: The other trade seems to get far more screen time than does The Hollywood Reporter.

Ellin: I had this very contentious relationship with (Variety TV critic) Brian Lowry. He trashed the show so badly, so many times, that I got angry and wanted to write this episode where (Johnny Drama) goes after this reporter. I never imagined they'd let us shoot in their offices, but they did. I'll give you guys some love next year -- it was not about playing favorites. I love The Hollywood Reporter, but once that first review came out, I became a little psychotically obsessed with Variety.