HBO is the self-styled king of content, and despite some recent creative struggles, we’d be wise to remember a lesson The Wire taught us over a decade ago—“the king stay the king” (video).
The buzz around HBO is that it’s in the throes of a serious dramatic slump. Several projects in development have either had trouble getting off the ground or been scrapped entirely, including two shows from David Fincher and one from Steve McQueen. Vinyl, HBO’s glamorous rock-and-roll drama in which lots of money and talent were invested, was unceremoniously cancelled last month after it failed to catch on with audiences and critics.
The timing of this rough patch has pundits frantic about the future of the premium cable channel. Game of Thrones, by far HBO’s most cherished product, will probably end in 2018. The Leftovers, a show that few people watch but is nonetheless adored by critics, will end next year. As Vulture’s Josef Adalian noted, HBO has dealt with tough times before, but never in the era of “peak TV,” with so much other competition for content. HBO literally has no other returning dramas on its slate, for now.
As if summoned directly by the TV Gods, in comes the miniseries The Night Of.
Based on the British series Criminal Justice, The Night Of follows a young Pakistani-American man in New York City as he’s arrested and tried for a murder it certainly looks like he committed—but, of course, it may not be that simple. The first episode premiered on TV last night (June 10), but HBO made it available on its online and on-demand platforms two weeks ago, where it drew 1.5 million streamers.
Critics love The Night Of. TV critic Alan Sepinwall called it “the great drama HBO very badly needs right now.” The Atlantic said it reinvents the murder mystery. The Night Of is the perfect show at the perfect time—it quells talk of HBO’s troubles while whetting our increasingly insatiable appetite for the crime genre.
But don’t call it a comeback. This is exactly what we should have expected from HBO. The Night Of is proof that the next big thing on TV can seemingly come out of nowhere.
The Night Of might only last one season (or, perhaps, turn into an anthology series with a new mystery every season, à la True Detective), but HBO won’t need it for more than that. We don’t know what the channel’s next hit will be—maybe The Night Of is only a summer fling—but we know there will be one.
Westworld, the sci-fi western debuting in October, is a strong candidate. The Wire creator David Simon’s upcoming drama is another. With HBO’s spending power and ability to lure the world’s top talent into its ranks, it’s a good bet that things will be just fine for the content king in the post-Game of Thrones landscape.
There won’t ever be anything like Game of Thrones again, and the network won’t try to replicate the sweeping fantasy drama once it ends for good. What it will do, though, is continue churning out culturally resonant shows like The Night Of.
Any number of them can potentially break out.