2019 will be HBO’s biggest year ever

Tighten your breastplates, it’s going to get crazy.
Tighten your breastplates, it’s going to get crazy.
Image: HBO
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With Netflix’s unending expansion, Amazon’s fixation on finding the next mega hit, and Apple’s emergence on the original content scene, the longtime leader in premium TV, HBO, could use a big year.

Good thing the cable network is about to have one.

Anchored by the finale of Game of Thrones, certain to be one of the biggest scripted TV events in decades, HBO is set to have its biggest year ever in 2019. The network announced last week that Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen series, based on the beloved comic of the same name, will debut in 2019Lovecraft Country, a horror series produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, is currently in production and tentatively slated for 2019, though that hasn’t been officially confirmed by the network yet. And that’s in addition to a throng of highly anticipated returning shows, some that haven’t aired in several years:

  • Game of Thrones series finale (returning from one-year hiatus)
  • Big Little Lies season two (returning from one-year hiatus)
  • Veep series finale (returning from one-year hiatus)
  • True Detective season three (returning from three-year hiatus)
  • Deadwood movie (returning from 12-year hiatus)
  • Watchmen premiere
  • Lovecraft Country premiere

2019 could also see the return of the acclaimed series Barry and Succession, which both premiered this year and have been renewed for second seasons. Comedies InsecureSilicon ValleyCurb Your EnthusiasmBallers, and Crashing and the David Simon drama The Deuce may also return for new seasons next year. All told, HBO could have as many as 15 original weekly series air in 2019, its most ever.

This deluge of major shows comes at a time when HBO’s new corporate overlord, AT&T, is expected to ramp up investment in the network’s original programming in an effort to control more hours of viewers’ days, and more days of their weeks. The network also has a long list of shows in development, though it’s unclear how many of them will make it to air. Until now, HBO has typically only aired new episodes of its series on Sunday nights. That could change with AT&T running the show—and it might have to, with so many potential tentpole series requiring airtime in 2019.

The obvious concern with this strategy, of course, is that it will dilute HBO’s brand as a curator of prestige fare, one that delivers just a few TV shows, but most of them quite good. Compared to Netflix, whose limitless pockets allow it to take as many swings (and allow itself as many misses) as it wants, HBO is a bonafide arthouse studio—the A24 to Netflix’s Disney. HBO won’t ever be as big as Netflix, but it’s clear that AT&T wants it to be bigger, and 2019, as its biggest year to date, could herald what ever year thereafter will look like under the authority of the Dallas-based telecommunications company.

But biggest ever doesn’t necessarily mean the best ever. Which year was HBO’s best?

2004 was a banner year, arguably the one that cemented the network’s stellar reputation. That year featured the premieres of Deadwood and Entourage, the series finale of Sex and the City, and the best season of The Wire (season three), in addition to new seasons of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. That’s hard to top from a quality standpoint.

2014 wasn’t bad either. The Leftovers and True Detective both premiered that year, while True Blood and Boardwalk Empire each ended their long runs.

2017 was another solid year: the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm after a five-year break, the finales of The Leftovers and Girls, and the premieres of Big Little LiesCrashing, and The Deuce.

In any case, 2019 will be colossal. It will mark the end of the network’s most-watched show ever (Game of Thrones) and its most acclaimed comedy ever (Veep). True Detective returns after a three-year absence with an improved (and more diverse) cast. Big Little Lies comes back, this time with Meryl Streep in tow. The long-rumored, seemingly mythical Deadwood movie is actually happening. And then there are the new shows by Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele, both potential Westworld-sized hits.

One looming question remains: What does HBO look like after Game of Thrones, its most-watched and most culturally significant show, ends for good? Will any of these promising new dramas develop into global phenomena in the way that Thrones did? Can Westworld take its place? Does it need to? Or does it all become a moot point in 2020, when the Game of Thrones prequel series is set to debut?