Santa Monica, CA — HBO, aka, Home Box Office, is being challenged right and left for its blue chip real estate in TV by rival companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu and the forthcoming Disney+. The days are long since past when its primary competition was lowly Showtime.
It’s Not TV. It’s HBO was the company’s hit slogan in the ’90s and ’00s, but are we still that into HBO? The Sopranos, Sex And The City, Six Feet Under, The Wire were all cultural influencers.
Now under the auspices of AT&T, not known for its television programming, it’s a new era for the premium cable channel which has new marching orders, as well: More content. (Also, employees 55+ please take a hike!)
Let’s take a look at what’s working, what doesn’t, and what HBO is developing for the future once its monster hit series, Game of Thrones, winds down later this year.
- Game of Thrones is that rare monster hit that has outlasted the source material, George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series (seemingly stuck with Book 6) set in Westeros, a mythical realm with rival kingdoms fighting for dominance. The final season airs April 14th. Team Lannister or Team Stark? I’m Team Direwolf.
- Westworld is that rare adaptation of a film by Michael Crichton that has breathed new life in the Artificial Intelligence Sci Fi genre and has given star-making roles for Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. S3 premieres in late 2019 or early 2020. It’s not quite as good as BSG, but it’s still compelling storytelling.
- Sharp Objects continues the cable giant’s penchant for brilliant limited series adaptations of best-selling novels. Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson received rave reviews and multiple accolades for their work.
- Big Little Lies really got everyone talking about Moms in Monterey thanks to Jon-Marc Vallee and David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel that caught the eye of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who starred and EPd. Kidman and Laura Dern won all the awards for their roles, but will they be able to live up to S1? Does not matter as S2 is on its way, and Meryl Streep joins the Monterey 5 as Nicole Kidman’s mother-in-law. Witherspoon does not rule out a S3. Premieres in June.
- Veep is HBO’s best comedy since Sex And The City. Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Co. have one last season in them before bidding their White House farewell. Airs in late March.
- Ballers proves that Dwayne Johnson can do anything. That sports-minded half hour comedy is now in its 4th season.
- The New Pope is the follow up to The Young Pope, one of my favorite series of 2017. Jude Law returns with much of the original cast. No Diane Keaton, but John Malkovich joins S2. This is an international hit brilliantly written and directed Paolo Sorrentino, someone to closely follow.
What’s Not Really Working.
- Silicon Valley has been on for five seasons, which seems hard to believe as the quirky comedy has flown under the radar despite T.J. Miller’s best efforts to disrupt it. S6 is its last, however. Thankful to Mike Judge for breakout star Kumail Nanjani.
- True Detective has never really recovered from a disastrous S2, and even the formidable Mahershala Ali’s presence in S3 seems unlikely to recapture the glory from S1.
- Camping was supposed to be Lena Dunham’s follow up to her hit series, Girls. Jennifer Garner led a very talented cast that included Juliette Lewis, David Tennant, and Chris Sullivan, but the result was a very mixed bag. Judd Apatow EPd but to no avail as the series came and went with a decided thud.
- Divorce with Sarah Jessica Parker is supposedly a comedy, but even the title suggests otherwise. I love Talia Balsam and Molly Shannon, but I don’t love this show. Amazed it got picked up for S3. The power of Sex And The City endures.
- Issa Rae is a mid-level performer in the half-hour comedy genre that hasn’t quite crossed over into the mainstream. Still, HBO likes her enough to develop a miniseries about the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls set in the ’90s with Laura Dern attached as well. Both Rae and Dern play disparate Oklahoma mothers who want those dolls.
- Room 104, Crashing, High Maintenance seem very niche to me. Not much interest in any of them.
What’s in Development.
The premium cable channel loves to develop vehicles with A-list talent, so it’s no surprise that it has multiple projects in development with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dwayne Johnson, Laura Dern, Issa Rae, Meryl Streep, and Judd Apatow.
HBO also loves a good book as demonstrated by its development slate that includes several Adaptations:
- Loner — Novelist Teddy Wayne adapts his own story which centers on a Harvard freshman who sets out to win a girl and gets more than he bargains.
- Watchmen — the graphic novel by Alan Moore gets adapted by Damon Lindelöf with a series order and a very cool cast that includes Jeremy Irons and Regina King among others.
- His Dark Materials — the Philip Pullman series of novels gets a grand BBC adaptation that stars James McAvoy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Dafne Keen. Two seasons have been ordered. Production is shot in Wales. High hopes for this one.
- Game of Thrones — A prequel series starring Naomi Watts is heading your way following the conclusion of the series this Spring. Martin and Jane Goldman wrote the pilot script which is supposedly set a thousand years prior to the current series. SJ Clarkson directs and production begins in Ireland this summer. Four other concepts were also developed and are still in consideration, but the cable network is resisting going to this rich well too often. Smart.
- I Know This Much Is True — Mark Ruffalo stars and EPs this adaptation of Wally Lamb’s charming novel about a set of twins.
- The Nix — Meryl Streep is set to star in this adaptation of Nathan Hill’s fun novel as a trouble-making mother.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger’s novel gets a second chance.
- The Nevers — Joss Whedon’s return to series television is not an adaptation, but it sure sounds like a Victorian Era-set Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it’s about women who secretly battle demons. Doesn’t matter. I’m in. Hope it’s good. Series order.
- Deadwood — David Milch’s period Western returns for a 2-hour movie follow-up with Ian MacShane ready to cuss up a storm. Premieres this Spring. This is HBO’s rare re-boot. Perhaps, we’ll see a follow up to Sex And The City. I sure hope so. Where ya been, Charlotte?
N E X T U P:
When Is Too Much TV … Just Too Much?