HBO has ruled the television kingdom for nearly a half a century. They’ve given us classic television series like The Sopranos, The Wire, Veep, Sex & The City, Game of Thrones, WestWorld & Six Feet Under, Ballers, Insecure, Entourage and honestly? That’s not even the half of it. They’ve dominated award shows and ceremonies for nearly two decades, but the Kingdom has shifted tides to more competition.
With streaming becoming increasingly more popular throughout the past 5 years, Netflix has become HBO’s number one competition when it comes to original television content. Netflix has provided us some marvellous shows and movies over the past decade ranging from House of Cards, BoJack Horseman, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None, Big Mouth and many, many more. Not to mention the films they’ve managed to produce along the way.
However, HBO isn’t willing to play second-fiddle after dominating the first quarter of the 21st century. As basketball fans may understand, just because a team goes on a big run, doesn’t mean they’ll win the game. HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler knows this and understands that while Netflix may have it’s time to shine now, HBO will plan, prepare and cultivate its own lane in this streaming world.
It wasn’t like this at first, HBO had its chances with a lot of shows that are now on different platforms, but they have learned. Per Vanity Fair:
“‘Oh, my God, you had House of Cards?,’ ” Plepler shouts, mimicking the appalled voices of business students he had recently lectured at Columbia University. “It’s a sin, what happened,” he continues more quietly. “We had hunted it. We got it. We had a handshake with David Fincher, were going to shoot a pilot.”
Then Netflix stepped in with a sizable offer to produce two seasons straight off the bat—an extravagant practice once unheard of in TV. It was a bet HBO couldn’t—or wouldn’t—match. HBO also had first crack at Orange Is the New Black and Mad Men. And both Transparent show-runner Jill Soloway and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino tried to get a foothold at HBO before landing at Amazon. So, at the start of 2018, Plepler found himself in an enviable position, but also one that will almost inevitably move HBO a degree or two closer to the throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wall upstarts.
At the Emmy Awards a couple of years ago, for the first time in a while, HBO tied Netflix for the most amount of awards by a network. That propelled HBO to make a change. A change that has been being planned for 2019.
When I visited Bloys at HBO’s Santa Monica office a few weeks earlier, he cued up a trailer for the network’s upcoming shows that included snippets of Euphoria, a jagged drama about drug-addled teen girls starring Zendaya, executive-produced by Drake. Also highly anticipated in 2019 is Damon Lindelof’s adventurous take on the graphic-novel series Watchmen. While there is a lot riding on the slate, Bloys sounded blithe.
“We’ve been talking about 2019 for two years,” he said, clicking off his TV, “and right now we’re working on putting together 2020.”
True Detective, which returned to HBO’s schedule in 2019, offers a unique view of the network’s creative process.
This heavyweight bout will be a back & forth affair, with both networks handing out blows, by the means of good television, at one another. But it’s a war that either side could win. Sure, the new generation may tell you that Netflix has it all figured out. But sometimes, the best things never change. Maybe HBO can prove that quote once again in 2019.