HBO over the ‘Moon’

Hanks hit inspires more miniseries orders

NEW YORK — HBO, charged up by its subscribers’ response to the Tom Hanks miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon,” is developing minis on the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s; the effect of drugs on the day-to-day life of an urban community; and, with Tom Hanks, the history of the Apple computer company.

Enthusiasm high

“We’re so upbeat about the impact of ‘Earth to the Moon’ that we want to get a new miniseries on the schedule as early as next year,” said Chris Albrecht, president of original programming for HBO.

The urban drug project, an adaptation of the nonfiction book “The Corner,” by David Simon (whose book “Homicide” served as the basis for Barry Levinson’s NBC series), could go into production within the next few months.

Longer projects on tap

Albrecht contrasted these projects with the 10-hour mini HBO is working on with Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck, “Decalogue,” an anthology of contemporary dramas based on the Ten Commandments; and the 13-hour “Patriots,” an Oliver Stone work dealing with the early days of the American republic from the point of view of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

“Decalogue” and “Patriots,” because of their length and scope, “could take a couple of years of production and post-production” before they’re ready to get on HBO’s schedule, Albrecht says.

HBO’s researchers call the 12-hour “Earth to the Moon” “a resounding success” based on the 46.7 million people in 25.5 million HBO homes who watched some part of the mini during its six-week run from April 5 to May 10.

The first two hours of “Earth to Moon” kicked off during a free-preview weekend, spurring 200,000 people to call the new-subscriber 800 number, four times the usual total during a weekend freebie, according to HBO’s research.

But one independent researcher, who requested anonymity, said the ratings of “Earth to Moon” fell off dramatically from the first Sunday’s 12.7 rating, ending up at a 7.25 rating on May 10, the sixth and final Sunday.

HBO might’ve done better, this researcher says, if it had scheduled the two-hour blocks on six consecutive nights, the way broadcast networks have slotted longform miniseries in the past such as “Roots,” “The Winds of War” and “Lonesome Dove.” This scheduling would have taken maximum advantage of the $10 million advertising/publicity campaign HBO mounted for “Earth to Moon.”

The downside, of course, is that if the miniseries had gotten off to a weak start because of powerful competition on the broadcast networks’ Sunday-night schedules, it might never have recovered in the Nielsens, sinking HBO’s record programming investment of $68 million.

Albrecht said “Earth to Moon” fell off to a 7.25 rating on May 5 at least in part because NBC had slotted the first two hours of its blockbuster mini “Merlin” and ABC had lined up the hit theatrical “Apollo 13,” which inspired the HBO miniseries.

But with big events — from the final episode of “Seinfeld” and the four-hour “Merlin” to USA’s “Moby Dick” adaptation and HBO’s live Garth Brooks concert in Central Park — becoming more and more a part of network planning, Albrecht didn’t rule out HBO’s scheduling the first run of a future miniseries on consecutive nights.