HBO struggles with originals on Monday

Weak perf of 'Enlightened,' 'Bored' illustrate cabler's struggle beyond Sunday

HBO is looking back on its experiment with programming comedies on Monday this fall and feeling a bit, well, enlightened.

The pay cabler, which has more original programming than it can fit into its regular Sunday-night schedule, made the decision to air newbie series “Enlightened” and the third season of “Bored to Death” on Mondays. The results haven’t been good, raising questions about how HBO will find the real estate to program the large number of originals in the works for the coming year.

While HBO execs always stress that the weeklong cumulative viewer totals are the best indicator a show’s performance, “Enlightened” has been a disappointment no matter how the numbers are dissected. The Laura Dern starrer drew only 210,000 viewers for its Oct. 10 launch and is now averaging 175,000 per episode and 1.5 million for the week.

In its season-three debut, “Bored to Death” garnered just 240,000.

That’s down from the 1.1 million who tuned in to the “Bored to Death” season premiere a year ago, when the comedy had the benefit of a “Boardwalk Empire” lead-in.

HBO programming topper Michael Lombardo says it would havebeen difficult for any new shows to gain traction on Mondays.

“If we’re going to experiment on a new night of the week, it probably would have been smarter to do it in summer,” Lombardo told Variety, “and it’s not the best idea to do it on a night where you’re going up against new fall shows and pro football. No one could’ve guessed how competitive Mondays were going to be. Knowing what we know now, we probably would’ve picked a different night. We’re a little disappointed, but we knew neither show would be a numbers story.”

The experiment was not HBO’s first on Mondays. Two episodes of “Six Feet Under” were aired on Mondays about a decade ago before the series was moved back to Sunday, and an entire season of “Big Love” ran on Mondays before eventually switching back to Sunday. Neither show fared well in a Monday timeslot.

Lombardo said that while the ratings have been small for “Enlightened,” those who watch are passionate, and he will keep that in consideration when determining whether the show will be renewed for a second season. Critics have been kind as well, with the skein rating higher on Metacritic.com than most new shows.

HBO has a long history of renewed shows that were never big hits but were critically applauded, including “The Wire,” “In Treatment” and “Treme.”

Producers and cast were made aware of the Monday shift and were told that ratings might take a hit.

HBO didn’t have much choice in moving both shows off Sunday. With “Boardwalk Empire” as well as comedies “Hung” and “How to Make It in America” currently airing, there simply wasn’t room for “Enlightened” and “Bored to Death.”

Holding them until “Boardwalk Empire” ends its season on Dec. 11 wasn’t a viable option either. Shows premiering during the winter holidays don’t fare well.

The upcoming Sunday slate is overflowing, and HBO may have more enviable situations to deal with going forward.

Net has high hopes for the new David Milch-Michael Mann horse racing series “Luck,” set to premiere on Jan. 29.

Also set for the first quarter are the return of “Eastbound and Down” plus the premieres of the Ricky Gervais skein “Life’s Too Short” and Chris Lilly’s “Angry Boys.”

Quarter two includes the return of “Game of Thrones” and, possibly, “Treme,” as well as the premieres of Lena Dunham’s comedy “Girls” and “Veep,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Lombardo said that while the Monday experiment has not worked out as planned, it doesn’t mean HBO wouldn’t try and branch out to an additional new night again. However, it’s not going to happen anytime soon because it’s not a move that comes cheaply.

“To rebrand a new night would command a financial commitment that we’re not prepared to make at this time,” Lombardo said.