HBO has spent the last few years hovering under a number of question marks.
Critics hemmed and hawed as “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” had their swan songs.
What was HBO without those shows?
Where was their next big thing?
Could they still compete in a world where basic cable was turning out fare like “Mad Men” and Showtime, thanks to their original series boom, was becoming a must-subscribe?
HBO responded by, to put it simply, refusing to panic. They spent the next several development cycles experimenting with format and tone, continuing to prize originality above all else, refusing to pander to audiences with half-assed riffs on other networks’ formulas.
Many shows didn’t work. Despite solid, nuanced acting, relationship dramedy “Tell Me You Love Me” failed to form a loyal fan base. “John from Cincinnati” proved too cerebral even for HBO’s intellectual crowd. And all the while, “Entourage” was on a freefall to punchline status.
But then, things took a turn.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as it stacked up seasons, got even funnier instead of getting tired. “True Blood” sparked the cult-like enthusiasm that’s long been essential to the HBO brand. And “Boardwalk Empire,” with its stellar cast, gorgeous imagery, and riveting storylines, feels like an ongoing victory lap.
But it isn’t. It’s actually the starting shot of HBO’s next golden era — and the official indication that the network has shaken off the ghosts of Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw.
'Game of Thrones,' which premiered last night, is an adaptation of the novel by George R. R. Martin, whose fan base is one of the most rabid in publishing. And since 'Thrones' is the first enormous volume in an epic fantasy series, the source material is endless.
Showtime's success in originals has had more than a little to do with the news -- 'Weeds' capitalised on the ongoing debate over marijuana's place in society, while 'Californication' premiered just as 'sex rehab' became part of our vernacular. (Even its star, David Duchovny, ended up going.) Two of HBO's most anticipated projects in development -- the just-greenlit 'Veep,' starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as just that, and an untitled Aaron Sorkin pilot set behind the scenes of cable news -- will satisfy next year's appetite for all things election.
HBO recently announced that the several-episodes-per-week drama 'In Treatment,' which has a devoted fan base, would not return for a fourth season. But they also said it isn't dead in the water -- it may return in a revamped format, perhaps as one of their typical hourlongs.
'Girls,' from Judd Apatow and 'Tiny Furniture' producer Lena Dunham (pictured), will follow in the footsteps of 'Sex and the City,' but with a tweaked tone and a younger set of Manhattan-set characters.
For all the viewers who have graduated from 'Entourage': HBO has ordered a pilot from Doug Ellin, the show's creator, about the lives of men in their forties. Ed Burns will star.
Katherine Heigl just inked an HBO deal to produce and star in a movie adaptation of the bestselling novel 'The Knitting Circle.' With her mum. If that doesn't scream 'passion project,' we don't know what does. HBO gives Heigl the means to make it happen, and she gives them the power of her A-list name.
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