Why HBO's next hit should be a family show
Posted August 11, 2016
With a record-breaking year for ratings with the sixth season of its controversial hit show, "Game of Thrones," it would seem 2016 has been a good year for HBO.
Or has it? The cable channel once pioneering in its creation of singular original programming like "Deadwood," "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" has hit a bit of an internal slump in recent years with its number of cancellations grabbing headlines.
"Save for that one very big hit, HBO finds itself in the middle of a years-long creative recession when it comes to dramas," Vulture reported. "HBO hasn’t come up with an undeniable drama hit since ("Game of Thrones") bowed in 2011."
HBO has canceled or hit the pause button on a number of high-profile projects of late, including Martin Scorcese's rock n' roll period drama, "Vinyl," comedy "Togetherness," the off-beat but critically lauded "The Leftovers," and once-popular gritty crime serial, "True Detective," which received mixed reviews in its second season and has yet to be renewed for a third a year later.
Most of HBO's current hits — including "Veep" and "Thrones" — are now ebbing. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' character on "Veep" has just been denied the presidency she's spent five seasons struggling for (likely a sign of the series winding down), and HBO has confirmed it will offer just two more abbreviated seasons of "Thrones," with fewer episodes than years past. So far, nothing has risen to firmly take the place of "Thrones," although HBO has been promoting its sci-fi reboot of the 1973 Yul Brenner film, "Westworld," debuting in October.
"While HBO yearns for a new must-see drama, its real strength is comedy," The Washington Post contended.
The reason for the downturn, critics say, is strong competition for original programming.
"While the network has faced creative dry spells in the past, it’s never done so while operating in a competitive landscape where so many rivals (Netflix, Amazon, AMC, FX, Showtime) were churning out prestige programming," Vulture reported.
With that in mind, HBO may want to take a page out of its competitors' playbooks and go where it hasn't gone since its late-1990s hit, "Six Feet Under": A show about families.
"('Six Feet Under') is a sometimes comedic, sometimes tragic look at the American family — a TV genre as old and as durable as the medium itself," Vox suggested. "It took chances with its storytelling, but at its heart was always a deeply familiar story of a family trying to heal itself, which is one of the most universal stories you can imagine."
HBO competitor Netflix has struck gold recently with its programming for and about families with its 2015 revisiting of sitcom "Full House" and its upcoming revival of popular family comedy "Gilmore Girls" due this fall.
Given its constant criticism for being too extreme with sex and violence, HBO, like Netflix, stands to gain a lot by dialing back the graphic programming its known for and instead embracing a very different kind of program.