HBO has two of TV’s great comedies with “Veep” and “Silicon Valley.” But does it have another to join their ranks?
HBO’s biggest ratings success is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Ballers,” which averaged 7.1 million viewers last season. Audiences (including Sen. Elizabeth Warren) clearly love it — but it hasn’t earned the Emmy buzz of shows like “Silicon Valley” (which averaged 4.74 million this past season), “Girls” (4.17 million) or “Veep” (3.64).
“Girls” has bowed out after six seasons, leaving shows like Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” on Netflix and Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” on FX to snag some of its millennial fans. Both, like “Girls,” are strong Emmy contenders.
HBO could use a brightly burning new prospect, given that “Veep,” coming off its widely acclaimed Season 6, is no longer the new kid on the block, and “Silicon Valley” will be without co-star T.J. Miller when it returns for its fifth season. Its recent half-hour additions include the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle “Divorce” (which averaged 4.41 million viewers), Issa Rae’s “Insecure” (3.6 million) and Pete Holmes’ “Crashing” (2.61 million).
“They’re definitely at a transition moment in that ‘Girls’ just left,” Jason Mittell, professor of film and media culture at Middlebury College, told TheWrap. “‘Silicon Valley’ is solid but not a huge hit — and maybe there’s a little bit more risk losing a main cast member. ‘Veep’ is long-running at this point — obviously, I think it’s seen as creatively very strong — but it’s not the new generation.”
Saul Austerlitz, pop culture writer and author of the book “Sitcom,” told TheWrap that HBO is making promising moves in the genre: “I would say they’ve introduced a bunch of new shows in the last year or two — at least some of them have peaked my interest personally and have a lot of potential for the future.”
Asterlitz praises “Vice Principals,” the Danny McBride comedy that launched in July 2016 and returns later this year for its second and supposedly final season. Asterlitz calls the ribald series “absolutely terrific and just extremely well done, and a show that’s very much of the moment. So that felt to me like it was flying a little bit under the radar.”
Mittell said that both “Insecure” and “High Maintenance” are “really interesting shows,” although he added that neither is “hugely successful.” He also appreciates that both were developed by the network from web series: “It shows another line of development.”
“Insecure” returns for its second season on July 23, the same night that Dwayne Johnson’s “Ballers” begins its third season. Both arrive a week after the drama “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s marquee show.
“‘Game of Thrones’ still casts the biggest shadow, and ‘Westworld’ was fairly successful — but I don’t know if it will be able to sustain — and ‘Leftovers’ has finished up,” said Mittell, co-author of the book “How to Watch Television.” “So there aren’t a lot of programs on HBO right now besides ‘Game of Thrones’ that you can say, ‘This is the brand for the network.'”
He continued, “Every channel, every network needs to get a new hit every few years, and right now, I don’t think HBO has a comedy hit in the works. I don’t think that they are in a rocky place, but I don’t think that they are in a highly developed and confident place with their comedies.”
Bill Mesce, author of “Inside the Rise of HBO,” is confident that HBO is doing what it takes to adjust and evolve.
“‘Girls’ was a signature, only-on-HBO kind of show, but it was not a huge ratings pillar for the service,” Mesce told TheWrap. “If HBO has proven anything in its 55 years, it’s its resiliency. They’ll be fine.”
HBO declined to comment on this story.