HBO’s unusually bold move to cancel three series in one fell swoop underscores the higher volume of original series that the pay cabler has on tap for 2012.
Programming president Michael Lombardo had been weighing the fate of comedies “Enlightened,” “Bored to Death,” “How to Make It in America” and “Hung” for months, waiting for all four to finish their respective seasons before reaching a decision. At the end, though, he believed that with so many new skeins on tap for the coming year, only “Enlightened” had enough upside to earn a renewal.
The other three shows formally got the ax Tuesday morning because HBO is in dire need of Sunday night real estate and thus cancellations needed to be made. Ratings for all three had been falling, and they clearly weren’t generating the buzz enjoyed by the first season of “Enlightened,” which was also buoyed by last week’s Golden Globe noms for both the show and star Laura Dern.
Of the three shows that were canceled, “Hung” had the largest audience. Series, starring Thomas Jane as a well-endowed high school teacher who makes a living as a male prostitute, averaged 3.9 million viewers — including multiple linear telecasts, DVR and On Demand usage — in its third season. However, that was down 44% from the 6.9 million garnered during the second season.
The skein was created by exec producers Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin. Other exec producers are Scott Stephens, Alexander Payne, Michael Rosenberg, Noreen Halpern and John Morayniss.
Second-year series “How to Make It in America” and third-year skein “Bored to Death” drew an identical 2.3 million apiece, each down about 25% from their respective previous seasons.
“How to Make It in America,” about a pair of Manhattan twentysomethings looking to make their way in the fashion business, was created by Ian Edelman, who exec produced with Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Julian Farino, Rob Weiss and Jill Soloway.
“Bored to Death” was created by novelist Jonathan Ames, who exec produced with Sarah Condon, Stephanie Davis and Dave Becky. Series starred Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis.
Ironically, of the four comedies whose future was on the line, “Enlightened” had the smallest audience. Only 1.5 million viewers tuned in to see the Dern and Mike White exec produced series about a woman (Dern) who returns home from a treatment center to face a mind-numbing job in the corporate world.
Through ratings were small because of a Monday timeslot, “Enlightened” is a favorite of many critics and has a passionate following. The series has a healthy Metacritic.com score, and, additionally, it scored on the Globes front last week.
Lombardo previously explained that he never expected “Enlightened” to be a big audience draw and ratings were never going to be a deciding factor as to whether the show would get a renewal.
“We’re a little disappointed, but we knew it wouldn’t be a numbers story,” he said.
Though he didn’t know if “Enlightened” was getting renewed last week, White said the kudos recognition was a huge bonus for the series.
“This is a big deal for a show like us,” White said. “It’s cool for a show like ‘Modern Family,’ but for us it’s a whole different thing.”
If not for HBO’s incoming slate of new series, Lombardo and co-president Richard Plepler might have renewed one or two of the shows that were canceled. Net, however, is under a strict Sunday-only programming slate going forward — with the exception of one or two smaller Friday shows; the strategy for 2012 is to not air original series on Mondays.
The Monday programming experiment, which had been attempted previously with “Six Feet Under” and “Big Love” many seasons ago, looks to be shelved for awhile now.
Among the new comedy series HBO has arriving in the new year are “Girls,” created by and starring Lena Dunham; “Veep,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus; “Life’s Too Short,” with Ricky Gervais; and “Angry Boys,” from “Summer Heights High” creator Chris Lilley. Also set to return is the third season of Danny McBride baseball laffer “Eastbound and Down.”
On the drama side, Jan. 29 marks the debut of the David Milch-Michael Mann horseracing drama “Luck.” The Aaron Sorkin project starring Jeff Daniels, tentatively titled “Newsroom,” is looking like a possible summer entry. Also arriving are the return seasons of “Game of Thrones,” “Treme” and “Boardwalk Empire.”