Strike threat twists HBO’s series lineup

Cabler's original series slightly askew

HOLLYWOOD — There may have been no writers’ strike after all, but the threat of one affected HBO’s original series lineup to the extent that a six-episode mini-season of “Sex and the City” will pop up on the cabler’s sked this winter.

In addition, two episodes have been cut from the 12-episode order of “Arliss'” this year.

The “Sex” mini-season will air sometime after the conclusion of HBO’s 10-hour, $120 million WWII mini “Band of Brothers,” which will kick off Sept. 9 and run for 10 weeks on Sundays, HBO’s franchise original programming preem night.

The extra “Sex” season is a result of the show’s 18-episode order for the year being split up after HBO decided to get moving on as many scripts for the Darren Star skein as possible before the WGA’s May 1 contract deadline.

HBO determined it could eke out 12 scripts by the writers’ contract deadline and complete production on them by the end of June, before the SAG contract expires.

If an extended writers’ strike had occurred, that would have been it for “Sex and the City” for the year, HBO original programming prexy Chris Albrecht told Daily Variety.

Free ‘Sex’ writers

Since the “Sex and the City” writers now are free to work, the net will pursue the full 18-episode order. There will be a short break once the initial 12 episodes wrap, then the mini-season will go into production and air at the end of this year or early in 2002.

Thirteen scripts for newcomer “Six Feet Under,” with which “Sex” and “Arliss” are to air on Sundays, were already ordered and in the can.

Without knowing whether a strike would prevent HBO from making it all the way through the 18-episode order for “Sex and the City,” the cable network had to make its scheduling and production decisions under the gun, Albrecht said.

“It was a matter of us keeping a big piece of programming (“Band of Brothers”) in the clear at a time when we knew a strike would have limited our ability to control our own destiny,” Albrecht said.

“We had ‘Band’ standing at the gate in September, with other series starting in June, and we needed to stop the series in time for Madonna, who is doing a live concert for us Aug. 26,” Albrecht added.

As part of HBO’s mandate to preem original programming on as many Sundays of the year as possible, the Sunday rundown will go like this:

  • Two episodes of half-hour “Sex and the City” will preem at 9 p.m. June 3, followed by the hourlong preem of “Six Feet Under.”

  • “Arliss” will follow one episode of “Sex” June 10. After “Arliss,” the second episode of “Six Feet Under” will preem.

    HBO Sundays will continue like that until the season finales of “Sex” and “Arliss” air Aug. 12. On the following Sunday, “Six Feet Under” will end with a two-episode finale.

    Labor Day weekend follows the Madonna concert Aug. 26, then “Band of Brothers” starts Sept. 9.