The years where HBO was not only king but undisputed ruler of all cable programming have long since passed away. With AMC and FX currently kings of the mountain, the network isn't even the best pay cable network. It is clear that major steps must be taken to regain prominence, but given a recent turn of events involving some of their more successful programs, one wonders if they've thought this through.
2013 ended with Treme closing up shop. Earlier last week, the creators of the overblown but still popular Boardwalk Empire announced that the show's fifth season would be it's last. But the biggest shock came last night when it was announced that Aaron Sorkin's overwritten The Newsroom would end its run after just three seasons. Combined with the news that this would be the last year of True Blood, and HBO will end 2014 with a serious programming deficit.
Now, I've used this blog repeatedly to make not of how frequently networks keep hit shows on the air long after any artistic integrity had even a chance of remaining. While not quite as flagrant abusers of it, cable has done it's share--- Showtime kept Weeds and The L Word on the air far too long, and is in danger of making a similar mistake with Nurse Jackie. And it's true that none of the four series that HBO is wrapping up feature either the artistic reach of The Wire or Deadwood or have been as commercially successful as The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. All the same, this mass slaughter (combined with the end of the modest comic hit Eastbound & Down last year) does tend to leave HBO's cupboard for the future rather bare.
What does the network really have left after this New Year's massacre? Game of Thrones has become one of the biggest commercial successes the network has had in years, but it's fate is linked to George R.R. Martin's books. With the sixth book in the cycle still years away, how will the series maintain itself past season five? It could take a different path, much like Dexter and True Blood did, but this series link to its publication has always been critical to its appeal. Veep and Girls are still young shows and comedies tend to last longer, but they can't carry all the way. And while True Detective may have gotten off to a strong start, it is at hear more of an anthology series? God knows if it can even last more than a season.
Admittedly, other networks are having similar problems. With Mad Men now down to it's last two seasons and The Killing and Breaking Bad, AMC's position as the premiere spot for cable programming. And with Sons of Anarchy and Justified rapidly approaching their end date, FX spinoff may have hard times ahead. But both networks have a strong bench of niche series. 2014 may be a critical year for HBO --- where it may finally fall off the map of where great creative minds game to launch original ideas.