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James Hibberd

HBO Panel Best Intentions

January 12, 2007 7:07 PM

Normally HBO is the zenith of Cable TCA, but this year’s lineup is a disappointment.

No “Rome' or “Extras,' returning for their second and final seasons. No “Deadwood,' returning for two, two-hour movies later this year. No “Sopranos,' which is returning for its final nine episodes (it’s always fun to watch critics try to pry spoilers from impossibly dispassionate showrunner David Chase).

Worst of all, no Q&A executive session with master of the cable universe Chris Albrecht.

Instead, we have three entries from the ever-snoozy, yet always well-intentioned, HBO Films side of the company, where there’s never been a true story of societal outrage that wasn’t worth telling, usually aided by an A-list talent attached as executive producer.

There’s “Longford' (controversial British politician who was a steadfast advocate for prisoner rehabilitation that zzzzzzzzz). “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' (from “Law & Order' exec producer Dick Wolf, it’s the tale of the culture extermination of the Sioux Tribe during the zzzzzzzzzzzz). And “Life Support' (executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the HIV crisis in the African American community where zzzzzzzzzz).

Surely a glut of Golden Globes nominations and HBO viewer contributions to the appropriate charities will follow.

It’s frustrating because the creative instincts at HBO are so strong. Yet HBO executives are intent on using the Films division to create a very deliberate halo effect—critical respect, awards, prestige. It gives potential subscribers a sense that HBO is (not TV!) something special, a service worth paying an extra $12 a month for. Then those subscribers end up watching “Entourage' and “Cathouse' like the rest of us.

Should HBO return to 1993 and produce titles like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman'? No. But there’s plenty of middle ground for smart genre films. Recently, HBO made a deal with “Lost' executive producer J.J. Abrams, who’s arguably the hottest showrunner in television right now, and the perfect person to head up such a project. Unfortunately, the deal was for a series with “prestige passion project' written all over it. It’s a drama set in a hospital cancer ward where zzzzzzzzz.


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