On the surface, HBO seems to be flying higher than ever. It has almost 10 million more U.S. subscribers than Starz and Showtime, racked up the most Emmy nominations of any network for the 16th straight year and says Game of Thrones is its most-watched series ever, with an average of 25 million viewers on all platforms for its most recent season.
But the network has also weathered several pricey stumbles in the past year, including Vinyl, True Detective's Season 2 and several big-budget shows that were halted or outright scrapped during production. That helped lead to the May 20 departure of Michael Lombardo, who stepped down as HBO programming president. His replacement, Casey Bloys, met with reporters today at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in L.A. to talk about his plans for getting the network back on track.
It's especially vital for HBO to right the ship and launch new hits because Game of Thrones will be ending after Season 8, Bloys confirmed. That means that the network has just two seasons left of the show, as Season 7 will air next summer. Bloys is "not opposed to" making Game of Thrones spinoffs, "but it has to make sense creatively."
With Game of Thrones approaching the finish line, Bloys is looking to pass the baton to several big names—including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jon Stewart and Larry David—to keep subscribers happy. HBO has 33.4 million U.S. subscribers, well ahead of 23.9 million for Starz and 23.8 million for Showtime, according to SNL Kagan.
Shortly after taking over for Lombardo, Bloys made a big statement by canceling Vinyl, even though the Martin Scorsese/Mick Jagger rock drama had already been renewed, despite low ratings and negative reviews.
Vinyl "didn't land as we would like," said Bloys, adding that "the decision to pick it up was an optimistic one." But "with a little bit of distance, it really becomes about priorities: Are we really going to get this from good to great?" The answer, he realized, was no.
HBO has "un-renewed" several shows over the years, including Tell Me You Love Me and last summer's The Brink, and "I would like to not to have to do that again," says Bloys, who will more "carefully consider" renewal decisions going forward.
Bloys shared more details about Jon Stewart's upcoming series, which will likely debut this fall. Stewart, who signed a four-year deal with HBO last fall, is establishing an animation studio for his show, which will be "an animated parody of a cable news networks with an Onion-like portal," said Bloys. "It allows him to comment in real time on what's happening during the day's news events." There will be linear and digital elements to the show, which Bloys hopes will be up and running by September or October, in time for the election.
Another big name coming (back) to the network is Sarah Jessica Parker, who is starring in a new comedy, Divorce, premiering on Oct. 9. It's her first series since Sex and the City ended in 2004. Divorce will be paired with Insecure, from comedian Issa Rae.
Parker will be joined by another HBO mainstay, Larry David, who is also returning to the network. Season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm will go into production this fall and air on the network next year.
HBO also has high hopes its nightly news program from Vice, which is debuting this fall. "It will look like a Vice version of a newscast" said Bloys. Vice News Tonight will air on the linear channel, and "will be available whenever they're ready during the day" on the digital platform.
Game of Thrones won't return until next summer because Season 7 production requires shooting in winter locales. That move will push the series—which had 23 Emmy nominations this year, more than any other show—out of Emmy contention next year, which could threaten HBO's 16-year streak as the most-nominated network. "That's just something we have to live with," says Bloys, who hopes that The Night Of, and its other new series will help pick up the Emmys slack.
Meanwhile, True Detective "is not dead," said Bloys, despite last year's critical and viewer backlash for Season 2. "I'm just not sure we have the right take on the third season yet." One possibility, he suggested, is that creator Nic Pizzolatto could step back and oversee someone else, who would take over the show for Season 3.
HBO also sees additional life in this summer's critically acclaimed The Night Of. The program was originally designed as a stand-alone miniseries, but "we're thinking of" ways to do another season, says Steven Zaillian, an executive producer, director and writer.
In other HBO TCA announcements, the network renewed Real Time With Bill Maher through 2018, which will be Season 16. The show is averaging 4.4 million viewers, for its most watched season since it debuted in 2003.
The network will make the entire run of Garry Shandling's iconic comedy The Larry Sanders Show available on all its VOD and streaming platforms, beginning Sept. 23. The network said it had completed the deal just one day before Shandling's shocking death on March 24.