What makes HBO tick

Two shows go to the heart of a cable network

HBO’s “In Treatment” and “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” two shows receiving Peabody Awards this year, appear to have nothing in common. One, based on an Israeli TV series, occurs almost exclusively in a therapist’s office and rarely features more than two people in a scene; the other, derived from a series of gentle mystery novels by Alexander McCall Smith, takes place in Botswana and is filmed entirely on location. What unites them are qualities of imagination.

“They both have unbelievably honest and unique storytelling going on,” says Michael Lombardo, HBO’s prexy of programming. “We have not seen the lives of everyday Africans on screen before, and although the show comes at it from the detective genre, it’s still a window into everyday lives there. And ‘In Treatment’ shares with it a deep belief in the humanity of man. They both expose, in different ways, the hearts of mankind. And they’re unabashed in that — humanness in all its glorious frailties. Both share a desire to look deeply at what makes us tick.”

Harvey Weinstein, an executive producer and moving force behind “Detective Agency,” points to a logistical coup concerning the show. “It’s the first major series that has been made in Africa,” he says. “And everything is filmed there — it’s not just second unit in Africa and the rest in California.”

Originally, Weinstein had optioned McCall Smith’s books to be made into feature films, but the late Anthony Minghella, who was heavily involved in the project until his death in March 2008, wanted to see the novels turned into a TV series. “And Anthony prevailed,” says Weinstein. Yet things are in flux now that the first season has aired and the series is on hiatus. Weinstein encourages fans to stay tuned for two cable films reuniting the cast in the same locale, and from there either a return to series format or an ongoing string of cable pics that carries the adventure forward.

Stephen Levinson, who has exec produced all 78 episodes of “In Treatment,” describes his series as “just two people sitting in a room” and notes that the burden of success therefore falls almost entirely on the show’s writers and actors, led by Gabriel Byrne, who plays Paul, a psychotherapist with problems of his own.

“We can’t rely on locations or props or action sequences,” says Levinson. “It’s reduced to the actors and the writing. It’s utterly exposed. You’re sitting there in the room with them.”

Regarding HBO’s two Peabody-awarded shows, Lombardo says, “Some shows are funnier or have bigger narrative arcs, but these shows speak to the human condition. There’s a big audience for that, and a passionate one, too.”

The Peabody Awards are given out today at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.


• “Modern Family” (ABC)
• “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: An Evening With Archbishop Desmond Tutu” (CBS)
• “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” (ABC)
• “BBC World News America: Unique Broadcast, Unique Perspective” (BBC America)
• “60 Minutes: The Cost of Dying” (CBS)
• “The OxyContin Express” (Current TV)
• “The Day That Lehman Died” (BBC World Service)
• “In Treatment” (HBO)
• “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (PBS)
• “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” (HBO)
• “60 Minutes: Sabotaging the System” (CBS)
• “Brick City” (Sundance Channel)
• “Thrilla in Manila” (HBO)
• “Frontline: The Madoff Affair” (PBS)
• “I-Witness: Ambulansiyang de Paa” (GMA Network)
• “Independent Lens: The Order of Myths” (PBS)
• “Iran and the West” (BBC)
• “Endgame” (PBS)
• “American Masters: Jerome Robbins — Something to Dance About” (PBS)
• “Where Giving Life Is a Death Sentence” (BBC America)
• “Independent Lens: Between the Folds” (PBS)
• “Glee” (Fox)

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