In the midst of one of the most fruitful periods in its history, HBO is taking the broadcast nets head on.
The Martin Scorsese-exec produced “Boardwalk Empire” will bow Sept. 19, the same week the vast majority of new and returning broadcast shows will make their fall debut.
Yet, because of the cabler’s success with repeat telecasts, video on demand and DVR usage, HBO co-president Richard Plepler and programming topper Michael Lombardo said the competition is less of a concern than it might appear.
“We had our summer season and didn’t want to hold it (back),” Lombardo said of the skein starring Steve Buscemi and created by ex-“Sopranos” scribe Terence Winter. “There are strong shows all year long now. … It will resonate even in the fall. Given all the options in front of us, this is the best place to schedule it.”
Added Plepler: “We’re not wedded to a premiere-night schedule. We have more flexibility.”
“Boardwalk Empire” arrives at a prosperous time for the net. With “True Blood” hitting record highs and season twos announcedfor “How to Make It in America,” “Treme” and “The Ricky Gervais Show” — along with other returning series — the cabler has a solid slate in place, with its handful of new series, telepics and miniseries also garnering critical plaudits.
In the final session of the summer Television Critics Assn. tour, the net announced that the next season of “Entourage,” which will air in summer 2011, would be its last.
Creator Doug Ellin has a strong desire to write an “Entourage” film, and the conclusion of the series will allow him to devote more time to a bigscreen effort. Lombardo also said he wouldn’t be surprised if Ellin ultimately pitches another series to HBO.
Other key dates: The third season of Gabriel Byrne-starrer “In Treatment” will return in October; five-part miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce, will debut in March; comedy “Enlightened,” with Laura Dern, will begin in January; telepic “The Sunset Limited,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, will debut in February; and telepic “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” with Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, will begin filming in February for a 2012 debut.
HBO, which has long had an association with Bruce Springsteen, has licensed the upcoming docu “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” and will air it in October.
The album was Springsteen’s fourth and followed the enormous success of “Born to Run,” but there was a lawsuit against the iconic singer-songwriter from his former manager Mike Appel, and Springsteen was basically locked out of the studio for an extended period of time prior to recording “Darkness.”
Doc, also set to unspool at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, offers rare footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band during those musically frustrating years (1975-78).
“When the guys were making the album, they filmed the process and put it in a vault,” Plepler explained. “It has all these young artists talking about art being made. It’s utterly mesmerizing to watch.”
Back on the series side, with the pilot for David Milch’s “Luck” now complete, HBO execs are anticipating that the horseracing skein will be more emblematic of his “Deadwood” than “John From Cincinnati.”
Milch, a longtime racetrack fan and horse owner, is “writing from his gut,” said Plepler.
“Deadwood” and “John From Cincinnati” ended their respective runs on completely different ends of the spectrum. Viewers clearly wanted more of “Deadwood” when it left the air, while “John” was canceled after a single season without much public outcry.
“Luck” has a bigscreen pedigree. Michael Mann directed the pilot and will remain on the show throughout the season, while Dustin Hoffman stars.
HBO is stepping out of its comfort zone with “Game of Thrones,” an epic fantasy series based on a series of novels from author George R.R. Martin. Show, currently shooting overseas, could make a good sci-fi companion to “True Blood,” which continues to be one of the biggest successes in the history of the net. “True Blood” is in its third season and was nominated in July for a drama series Emmy.
“It’s a genre we’ve approached cautiously, but it has been successful in the feature-film world,” Lombardo said of “Thrones,” “It’s a sophisticated audience. … There’s enormous pressure to get it right.”
As for “True Blood,” showrunner Alan Ball is about to direct the pilot “All Signs of Death,” based on Charlie Huston’s crime noir novel, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.” Lombardo said if the net picks up the show, Ball would remain on the vampire drama.
As is typical every summer, the net’s Emmy haul was best among all networks. Many of the cabler’s 101 noms came for its telepics — “Temple Grandin,” “You Don’t Know Jack” and “The Special Relationship” — and miniseries “The Pacific.”
Like “The Wire,” however, David Simon’s “Treme” got shut out, despite plenty of critical acclaim.
“There’s nothing you can do about the Emmy gods,” Lombardo said. “If you saw the performances of Wendell (Pierce), Khandi (Alexander) and Melissa Leo, you can’t say they’re not worthy of attention and accolades.”