This year, HBO has set itself up for another strong year at the Emmys. “Game of Thrones” remains the runaway favorite to win Best Drama Series. Meanwhile, “Veep” looks to return to glory for one last ride. When you add in “Sharp Objects” or “Chernobyl” into the limited series races, HBO could take home all three of the big prizes on Emmy night. However, all four will have concluded their runs on HBO by June (unless “Sharp Objects” goes the way of “Big Little Lies”). HBO is in flux for the first time in years after Richard Plepler stepped down. Now, former NBC chief Bob Greenblatt has taken over the premium network. What HBO look like under the new regime? What does it look like without “Game of Thrones” next year? Let’s look at the cancellations, renewals, and shows on the horizon for the premium network juggernaut.
- “The Deuce”
- “Hard Knocks”
- “High Maintenance”
- “Random Acts of Flyness”
- “Room 104”
- “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas”
HBO had a rather strong year when it came to new shows. “Random Acts of Flyness” and “Succession” became surprise hits. “Insecure,” “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas,” and “High Maintenance” continued to build their followings. “The Deuce,” and “Divorce,” are returning for a final season. “Room 104,” “Ballers” and “Hard Knocks” draw in their niche crowds. While “Insecure” and “Succession” are the awards players of the bunch, the have posted respectable, if not spectacular numbers. It’s a solid foundation that helps HBO thrive as they transition between their tentpole projects in the pipeline.
Waiting to Debut
Most of the series set to air in the coming weeks are entering their final season. With each looking to earn a half dozen Emmys, “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” will be the focus of the network through May. Fans of “Deadwood” will see the iconic series return for a one-off “Deadwood: The Movie” on May 31, 2019. We may finally get closure, or it could become the first in a series of TV Movies on the Western town. “Chernobyl” will make a splash in Limited Series at the deadline, especially for Jared Harris as a Lead Actor. “Barry” wants to keep winning awards for Bill Hader and Henry Winkler, and without “Atlanta” in the fold, both should cakewalk to another Emmy. “Gentleman Jack” looks to be a wildcard in HBO’s lineup, and if it’s popular enough, could earn another series order.
- “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
- “Real Time with Bill Maher”
There’s little doubt that HBO will renew John Oliver and Bill Maher. Maher occupies a Friday night slot that HBO does not traditionally program. He continues to stir controversy, but if they have not let him go before, why would they do it now? Oliver is an Emmy favorite, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best late night hosts on television. Beyond that, his stories actual educate their audiences while not becoming overly controversial. It’s a pretty good deal for HBO.
“Sally4Ever” received the critical response needed for a series like this to survive. However, it is unlikely it will become a focus of HBO’s Emmy campaign. That might be cause for worry. It never posted above 165,000 viewers for a single episode. “Sally4Ever” might serve as a litmus test for how AT&T values prestige versus ratings.
- “Gentleman Jack”
- “Sharp Objects“
- “Tracey Ullman’s Show”
- “True Detective”
Each these shows is a special case that makes them a bubble nominee. “Gentleman Jack” has been marketed as a limited series, and it is based on a finite book. The same can be said for “Sharp Objects,” which also stars A-list talent. Traditionally, that would mean the show would end, and we would never get a sequel. HBO has proven that is not the case for their shows. “Big Little Lies” was based on a book, featured some of the best actresses in the world, and maxed out its performance on Emmy night. Still, the series is back cast back for another season to air in 2019. Depending on schedules and money, it would be less than surprising to have either series renewed for a 2020 or 2021 season.
“True Detective” should return for another season. Season 3 still did not reach the heights of Season 1, but it was a big step forward. It also benefits from the anthology structure. Rumors say Nic Pizzolatto is already working on another “True Detective” tale. Hopefully, the crime series gets another opportunity to return and will look to capture lightning in a bottle once more.
Finally, “Tracey Ullman’s Show” entirely depends on British deals. In theory, this is a no brainer, especially if AT&T wants to build an over-the-top app and unite all their content. Last season took footage from Ullman’s new series and retrofitted it for the “Tracey Ullman’s Show” brand. As long as she continues to get deals in the U.K., HBO would essentially just need to acquire footage to fit and contract Ullman. However, if AT&T feels Ullman is not a necessary draw, they could let the sketch-comedy show end.
- “Game of Thrones”
The big losses for HBO are obviously “Game of Thrones” and “Veep.” While a sequel or spin-off series from “Thrones” could bring back viewers, it is unlikely to become as big of a sensation. “Veep” likely won’t get a spin-off, although there were enough characters to justify one. “Chernobyl” has a finite ending, so that will move on as well.
Two of the cancellations announced by HBO so far were not entirely surprising. However one caught most TV viewers off-guard. “Crashing” had strong support from critics, but had a slight rating dropped this season. Even so, the 25% drop was not so dramatic dropoff it would justify cancellation. It still posted at least 350,000 viewers per episode, with some peaking closing to 450,000 viewers. Considering the ratings of other shows that have been renewed, it seemed odd. Pete Holmes will find another show in the future, but HBO dropping one of their stronger comedies stings. “Camping” never really made a cultural impact. Many may not have even realized it existed. “Animals.” never really took off either. Three season of content was probably enough for the animated series.
Shows Awaiting Return
One of the things that HBO has in its favor the group of hit shows waiting to return. “Big Little Lies” returns for a second season this year. With Meryl Streep joining the cast, expectations are high. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” feels like it will never have a farewell season, and will end when Larry David decides to let it lapse. Pushing “Silicon Valley” into next year felt like HBO redshirted a Senior to let the rising Sophomore start at Quarterback. However, the Emmy-nominated comedy, would have overcrowded their awards slate, and may have stolen nominations from the superior “Barry,” “Insecure” or “Veep.” “Westworld” sits out this Emmy cycle out as well, but with “Game of Thrones” and the long production schedule required for the sci-fi blockbuster, this was not a surprise. This group will lead HBO next year, and instantly replenish their prestige TV stables.
Upcoming HBO Shows
- “Catherine the Great”
- “Game of Thrones” Spinoff
- “His Dark Materials“
- “Los Espookys”
- “Lovecraft Country”
- “Mrs. Fletcher”
- “The New Pope”
- “The Outsider”
- “The Righteous Gemstones”
- “The Undoing”
- “Years and Years”
So what does all of this mean for HBO as we know it? Back in 2016, things looked grim for the network when they cancelled Martin Scorsese’s “Vinyl” after they had renewed it. The cupboards were bare, especially when it came to Drama. A few years later, and it is clear that HBO took a page out of FX’s playbook, and spent the time to develop top-tier dramas and limited series to fill in the gaps.
Feeling pressure from Amazon, blockbuster shows will be a big thing at HBO moving forward. There is at least one “Game of Thrones” spin-off in the works. We’re hearing more casting announcements every week, and that could mean production starts in the very near future. “Watchmen” will look deliver another alternate reality based on characters from the popular graphic novel. Considering it comes from Damon Lindelof, who seems to have finally cracked the code with “The Leftovers,” “Watchmen” could have the best show on TV potential. “His Dark Materials” looks to deliver a massive hit to HBO, with a killer cast in tow. The fantasy novels have a devout following, and could easily cross over for American audiences. There’s a lot to like in the trailer.
Kathryn Hahn gets another crack at leading a comedy series with “Mrs. Fletcher” from Tom Perrotta. Anytime Hahn gets that opportunity, expect us to tune in. “Los Espookys” looks ridiculous, and could become a cult show on HBO. “The Righteous Gemstones” returns Danny McBride to HBO, where his throne as raunch-comedy king sits. The cast for this one includes John Goodman, Adam Devine, and Cassidy Freeman as well.
“The Undoing,” “Catherine the Great,” “The New Pope,” and “Years and Years” bring some of the best actors and actresses Limited Series next year. When you have a slate that focuses on Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, and John Malkovich, things are going well. While some of these will be more critical darlings than ratings boosters, each could capture the zeitgeist for a few weeks at a time.
Things are going to get creepy on HBO. “Euphoria” looks trippy as hell, and if the series even remotely lives up to the promos, it could be a career-redefining role for Zendaya. If “The Outsider” can be completed in time, the Stephen King adaptation starring Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, and Bill Camp could fill the “True Detective” or “The Night Of” slot for the Spring next year.
Finally, “Lovecraft Country” sounds positively delightful. The cast is loaded, with Michael K. Williams, Elizabeth Debicki, Jonathan Majors, Courtney B. Vance, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as some of the attached names. It also comes from Jordan Peele, who might be the busiest but most intriguing content creators alive. This could be our most anticipated show of the year.