HBO’s High-Class Problems: $100M ‘Vinyl’ Disappoints Amid ‘Westworld,’ David Fincher Woes

As a stone play underwhelms in a ratings, a reward wire network faces vigour from struggling primogenitor Time Warner, and a new spate of uneasy projects gleam a light on a climax valuables during a crossroads.

This story initial seemed in a Mar 4 emanate of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To accept a magazine, click here to subscribe.

When HBO launched Vinyl, a desirous stone play from Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, on Feb. 14, a ratings — even with 3 days of DVR observation — were wan. But a network soon renewed a series. As a sign used to go, “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”

And that’s still true. Yet a compensate TV service, with 36 million U.S. subscribers and a scarcely year-old streaming use that CEO Richard Plepler pronounced Feb. 10 has 800,000 subs, no longer is alone in a reward space. As Netflix and Amazon, not to discuss Showtime, AMC, FX and others, quarrel it out for status projects, HBO still is a initial choice for many A-listers. In 2015, it mopped adult 43 Emmys with such opposite offerings as Game of Thrones, Olive Kitteridge and Veep. (NBC came in second with 12.) “As distant as radio goes,” says David Simon, who combined The Wire and Treme, “these guys are a f—ing Medicis.”

Yet HBO is in a duration of challenge. It hasn’t had a dermatitis play strike given Game of Thrones launched in 2011, and in new months, it has seen several uneasy shows go expensively into and afterwards out of production. Those embody a mega-budgeted unconventional Westworld, that was halted in Dec with several episodes shot nonetheless wanting additional work. The array now competence be pushed into 2017 notwithstanding an initial devise to have it prepared final year. Other projects close down good into a slight embody dual shows from David Fincher, a singular array from Steve McQueen and another on Lewis and Clark from producers Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks. HBO says some of these competence be revived. “We make no apologies for adhering by a plan we trust has a intensity to be great,” says programming boss Michael Lombardo. “Unfortunately, we also during times find ourselves in a position of determining not to pierce brazen with others. That is never fun, nonetheless that is a business.”

‘Vinyl,’ with Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde, debuted to customarily 1.1 million live-plus-3-day viewers.

Meanwhile, adjustments are being made. In January, play conduct Michael Ellenberg was ousted, and given then, a famously development-rich network has been looking to comparison a 100-plus shows in a pipeline. (Casey Bloys, who oversaw such well-regarded comedies as Silicon Valley, now heads play as well.) HBO is putting vigour on budgets for scripted shows as a network has increasing a programming hours by 40 percent with costly forays outward scripted, adding offerings from Vice, ESPN alum Bill Simmons and Jon Stewart as good as a family programming bid spearheaded by Sesame Street.

These moves come during a ethereal time. HBO is a valuables in a Time Warner crown, contributing 27 percent of a company’s handling income in 2015, nonetheless sources contend it is profitable a cost for that. “Connect a dots,” says one veteran, contending that HBO is traffic with combined vigour as a primogenitor grapples with struggles during a Warner Bros. film studio and hurdles during a TV prolongation arm. In offered off resources like Time Warner Cable, CEO Jeffrey Bewkes has laid unclothed a ionization to a vagaries of a calm business.

Observers prolonged have viewed Bewkes as a seller, possibly of all of Time Warner or of HBO. So he wants his many fascinating item to gleam brightly. One source with business during HBO believes Fox’s 2014 play for Time Warner “changed a enlightenment during a network,” with increasing importance on opening and cost control. While HBO leans on scripted budgets, Ben Weiss of 8th Jackson Partners — maybe ironically — believes a network should be spending more. HBO is a profitable source of solid income nonetheless “needs to take some-more swings,” he says, arguing that “the aged indication of dual large scripted array in a tumble and open does not yield adequate value for subscribers relations to what competitors [Amazon and Netflix] are charity during a reduce price.”

As HBO is customarily too aware, Netflix and Amazon have a oppulance of handling on a opposite and distant reduction pure model. They chuck adult a clearly vast array of array while HBO’s primary genuine estate for scripted shows still is Sunday nights. HBO array are rated by Nielsen even nonetheless a network is not ratings-driven, while a streamers exhibit nothing. Their failures go unrecognized.

Meanwhile, HBO’s large swings can be mind-bendingly expensive. The two-hour Vinyl opener is pronounced to have cost about $30 million and a initial deteriorate $100 million. HBO executives still are confident that Vinyl will redeem from a unsatisfactory launch, that pitted it opposite a midseason lapse of The Walking Dead. As for projects that haven’t done it to atmosphere yet, HBO has left by fake starts before; it dumped a commander for Game of Thrones before a reset that has been successful in each clarity of a word. But given a names involved, HBO’s uneasy projects can be generally noisy.

Last summer, Fincher’s Videosyncrasy — a half-hour about a song video PA (as Fincher was) — was halted with 4 episodes shot. After directing a initial two, Fincher incited his concentration to Utopia, a thriller about striking novel fans. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn wrote scripts for a series, and a expel led by Rooney Mara was low into rehearsals when HBO pulled a block in August. The network reportedly balked during Fincher’s insistence on a $100 million budget. HBO still hopes Fincher will lapse to Videosyncrasy and skeleton to make Utopia with another director. Meanwhile, Fincher has returned to his House of Cards home, Netflix, to rise a new drama.

Last summer, HBO also close down a six-part Lewis and Clark mini­series after weeks of shooting. Sources contend a network mislaid faith in executive John Curran’s vision; Masters of Sex creator Michelle Ashford, whose credits embody John Adams, was hired to start from scratch. THR has schooled that McQueen’s drama, Codes of Conduct, with Paul Dano, Helena Bonham Carter and Rebecca Hall, has been scrapped. The commander was shot, and HBO had systematic a six-episode array before pulling out.

Late final year, HBO stopped work on a pricey J.J. Abrams-produced Westworld, formed on a renouned sci-fi book array and with an huge expel including Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris. Initially constructed with Warners’ TV prolongation arm, HBO took behind control after what sources call clashes with creator Jonathan Nolan, whose TV credit is a WBTV-produced Person of Interest on CBS. (HBO customarily creates a possess programming nonetheless works with Warners on The Leftovers.) Nolan is pronounced to be each bit as determining as his filmmaker hermit Chris. Sources contend cuts came in slowly, scripts started using behind, and it became apparent that episodes already shot indispensable tweaks requiring additional filming. Since interlude production, HBO swayed Nolan to “put aside his ego,” one source says, and has brought in dual additional producers and dual some-more writers. Production is set to resume in March.

Westworld is extravagantly desirous — on a page and on set,” says Nolan. “In promote TV, it’s been slight for us to write and fire during a same time. This is a totally opposite animal. As we got closer to a final episodes, we satisfied we indispensable to take a mangle from sharpened to locate adult on writing. HBO and WBTV have been impossibly understanding via a process. It would have been literally unfit to make this uncover anywhere else.”

Says WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel: “The good thing about HBO is they do take those shots. They behind artists.” But several HBO veterans lamentation a network suffers from a allure of large film names who have incited to a channel as a film business became reduction hospitable. Noting that he’s always kept his shows during or underneath his partially medium budgets, Simon says, “A lot of underline people have thought, ‘It’s HBO. The universe is my oyster.’ we saw a thing with David Fincher, and we can’t suppose an evidence with HBO over either we can spend $100 million or $80 million.” Star talent is tough to resist, continues Simon, nonetheless “it’s got to be a tough dynamic. You wish to do a plan that we consider competence be glorious, nonetheless if they’re all $100 million for a initial season, you’re going to empty your bill flattering quickly.”

Some insiders feel a enlightenment during HBO has changed. “If we can get something on there, we still consider it’s a good place to be,” says a high-profile HBO talent. “But if you’re looking for a solid palm to figure and mold, we don’t consider that’s happening.” An representative with business during a network adds, “At times there are directives from those guys that dispute with what they afterwards feel later, in terms of who we should sinecure and what purpose they should play.” With a new executive shuffle, he adds, “They’re apparently observant that it wasn’t working.”

HBO points with honour to arriving programming, including a Reese Witherspoon-Nicole Kidman singular array Big Little Lies and a Sarah Jessica Parker half-hour array Divorce, that it believes will infer HBO is still HBO. And Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof says there is each possibility a new shows will do a job, starting with Westworld. “The initial Game of Thrones commander was disastrous,” he says. “They spent and they retooled and, lo and behold, Game of Thrones.” Lombardo adds he wants to be “proud of all we put on a screen. We demeanour out during 2016 and over with good honour and couldn’t be some-more vehement or confident about a line-up of programming.”

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