Get a Show On HBO and You’re Set For Life -

Get a Show On HBO and You’re Set For Life

The only show they tried to cancel recently was ‘The Life and Times of Tim,’ and they just un-canceled it


If young writers came up to me and asked, “Mr. Weinman, sir, oh, great Guru, I have several networks fighting over the right to produce my show, who should I go with?” (Note: No one asks me this) I would reply “Go to HBO, young man or woman as the case may be.” Why would I say this? Because under the current administration at HBO, if you get a show picked up to series, you can basically never get canceled. They just renewed Hung — a show that is not popular, not critically acclaimed, and hasn’t grown from its first season — for a third season. The only show they tried to cancel recently was The Life and Times of Tim, and they just un-canceled it; if a show goes away, it has to be because the creators decided (perhaps with some prodding from the executives) they wanted to end it. As it presently stands, HBO is not the network that canceled Deadwood and Lucky Louie and so on. They’re more like the network that kept on renewing Arli$$ and got roundly mocked for it.

My reading of this, and I could be wrong, is that HBO now sees its refusal to cancel anything as part of its all-important brand. Cancellation is an admission that popularity matters — that if a show is not popular with audiences, it gets pulled. And that’s a very “network” way of looking at things. By picking up everything, they can retain their “it’s not TV, it’s HBO” image. It does seem to be part of a high-prestige cable brand that it’s easier for a show to get picked up for more seasons than it is on a broadcast network or a low-prestige cable network: the renewal is not necessarily a statement that that particular show is great, but a way of avoiding that moment where the network gets a reputation like, say, Fox. (Fox is famous for ordering unusual or experimental shows, but the difference between Fox and a high-end cable network is that Fox has to cancel these shows when they do poorly. And so they have a reputation that focuses more on their cold-hearted business decisions than on their artistic risks.)  And it’s sort of working: David Milch, after doing two HBO shows that got canceled prematurely, is coming back to them this year to do Luck. The premature cancelations are past history, what can attract creators now is HBO’s current reputation as a place where you’re set for life if you can get a show on the air.


Get a Show On HBO and You’re Set For Life

  1. I actually like Hung. It is good for a laugh, and I find it more enjoyable than Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" (which brought in an Emmy for Edie Falco).

    With cable, there are more factors to consider than ratings or critical approval. For outfits like HBO, cost can be a big factor, as well as the need for marque/event programming to drive up subscription numbers. Shows like Rome, The Pacific, The Sopranos, et al, were worth their outrageous costs because of the uptick in subscription numbers they provided. This is not the case for Hung in the United States, but elsewhere?

    I don't know what the cost per episode is for Hung, and I am sure it is far and away more expensive than an episode of FX's Louis (Which, I've heard, is only in the mid six figures per episode), but as of right now, Hung is broadcast in over 60 countries on over a dozen different providers. I've even seen ads for the show out here in the Middle East.

    There is an market for shows like Hung, internationally, as they can easily be programmed into a 12pm slot, and can be marketed as fresh and risque. Also, a show like Hung translates pretty easily in international markets.

  2. I am starting to develop a taste for shows that set out to run for a certain number of episodes and then stop — according to the plan. Mini-series seem rare now, presumably for economic reasons.

    Imagine how amazing Lost might have been condensed into a 20 ep arc.

  3. why is hung considered "unacclaimed"? ok, the av club isn't a fan this year, but the new york times is, and a bunch of others.