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Dear HBO: I’m leaving you for Showtime. How HBO’s commitment issues led to the death of Rome and Deadwood.

March 15, 2010

HBO can’t commit to its period-set films and shows.  Showtime is married to its period piece programming and reaping the benefits.  Here’s why.  


May you rest in peace...

Remember 2006, when Deadwood and Rome were on the air?  It was a wonderful era filled with joyous anticipation for us period film/television lovers.   Then, thanks to the all-mighty dollar, Deadwood was cut off without a logical or appropriate send-off, and Rome, while “wrapped” up, had all the send-off of  the Lusitania. 

HBO used to be the place for quality miniseries, made-for-cable films and well-written (period-set) television shows.  That is, until they became too expensive.

Let’s break it down.  Why is a show like Entourage still on the air for a bajillion seasons when Deadwood could only make it for three?  Costs.

Entourage costs about a dollar to make.  Okay – maybe more than a dollar, but not far off.  There are no sets specific to the show that are necessary to construct/maintain, the wardrobe is modern and donated by top designers in some instances in order to boost their profile.  In short, Entourage is a no-brainer in the industry.  It by far outmakes in revenue what it costs to put into it.

Roman bro-mance, we miss you...

Deadwood, on the other hand, had an expensive, massive, period-appropriate set to maintain on location.  It also had a massive costume budget, extras to feed and clothe and place, and all this unfortunately costs bundles to produce.  It was a critics and fans’ darling, but it was off the air in less than three years, with only 36 episodes completed.  Why?  HBO, in a mismanagement of money and fan base, couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain.  Trying to re-coup money with merchandise and DVDs, the HBO store (and by proxy Amazon and other outlets’ set prices) marked up the products so outrageously hight to try and re-coup costs that they alienated even the most loyal viewers.   Some TV shows, such as China Beach and La Femme Nikita have run into budget issues with DVD releases due to music licensing concerns, but Deadwood and Rome‘s music (with the exception of show closing songs at  the end of each Deadwood episode) was all produced in-house. 

I buy almost every season of television shows I enjoy, but even I could not afford to buy ANY season of Rome or Deadwood during their heyday.  Priced at over 60 dollars a season (for 12 episodes no less), it just wasn’t feasible.

All hail the king of Showtime

Showtime, on the other hand, manages to do period pieces CORRECTLY.  Their current hit, The Tudors, is produced by the Peace Arch company on location in Ireland for a pittance in comparison with Deadwood or Rome’s respective budgets.  By focusing on ONE quality production-heavy period piece, Showtime literally shows HBO how it is done.  The Tudors is filmed using historic locations (no pricey original sets to maintain, only interior shots with standing sets are built uniquely for the show), and the costume designer re-cycles costumes from other Tudor-era films and shows to save money.  It’s brilliant, and its why The Tudors has been a hit for Showtime.    The savings filter back to the fans on merchandising and DVD prices.  Showtime also supports their fan base by maintaining a user-friendly website with a fan-run wiki.  It’s a load of fun, and gets fans invested and helps them in turn support the show.

Showtime’s pricing of The Tudors DVDs in comparison with shows like Rome or Deadwood?   Deadwood season 1 is  $45 right now on Amazon (which is markdown from its original price in 2006).  The Tudors Season One set retails for – get this – $19.99.

Jeremy Irons will be Rodrigo Borgia on Showtime's The Borgias

Showtime already has a replacement in the wings for The Tudors when Henry finally kicks the bucket at the end of season four this Spring.  The Borgias, another family dynasty oozing with deception and soap opera, stars Jeremy Irons and I can’t wait until its premiere in 2011.

HBO has an adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series in the works for 2011.  A Game of Thrones is a massive production starring brilliant actors and will no doubt involve massive needs for original sets, costumes, music….you get the idea.  I ADORE the books, and am trying to stifle my excitement.  HBO, you’ve let me down one too many times.  You just can’t commit to your period series.    Let’s see if HBO can reform in time for A Game of Thrones to succeed.  My fingers are crossed.

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