It's the most wonderful time of the year? Don't believe the hype.
This holiday season, the Grinch honours go to the U.S. cable channel HBO, which chose to cancel the programs Hung, Bored to Death and How to Make It in America five days before Christmas. Sure, broadcasting is a business, but the bad news couldn't have waited until the new year?
HBO's decision to clean house came late Tuesday and caught most TV-industry watchers by surprise. The three series were being axed, claimed HBO programming president Michael Lombardo, in order to make room for new shows to roll out in 2012.
According to the trade publication Variety, Lombardo was waiting for all three shows to wrap their current seasons before making the decision to cancel them. For the record, Hung and Bored to Death ran for three abbreviated campaigns apiece, while How to Make It in America lasted two seasons.
The series that survived HBO's Bloody Tuesday was the new Laura Dern comedy Enlightened, which recently earned Golden Globe nods for both Dern and the show. At the same time the other three shows were being chopped, HBO announced the renewal of Enlightened for a second season. Programs routinely live fast and die young in the cable-TV realm, but the peculiar aspect of these most recent cancellations is that at least two of the three shows had respectable viewing audiences.
Hung, starring Thomas Jane as a schoolteacher driven to male prostitution by hard economic times (yes, it's a comedy), enjoyed the largest viewership, with nearly four million U.S. viewers per broadcast. Not any more.
The dark comedy Bored to Death, with an A-list cast that included Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and hot indie-film oddball Zack Galifianakis, was pulling a healthy 2.3 million U.S. viewers each episode for its third season.
The only HBO show that probably deserved its walking papers was How to Make It in America, about young hipsters trying to break into the New York fashion scene, which closed its second season with a woefully low audience of slightly more than a half-million U.S. viewers. Apparently America was not ready for an East Coast version of Entourage.
Here in the Great White North, the cancelled shows aired regularly on HBO Canada, which chooses not to release ratings, but it's pretty safe to say all three programs had earned commensurate viewer followings.
And with all that new space suddenly available on the schedule, what to expect from HBO in 2012? The cable giant is rolling the dice on Luck, a new drama set in the world of horse racing and starring Dustin Hoffman.
Last week's sneak-preview episode of Luck drew barely more than a million American viewers, which does not exactly bode well for the show's debut on Jan. 29.
Starting Feb. 19 on HBO and HBO Canada, we have Life's Too Short, a sitcom about "the life of a showbiz dwarf," according to creator Ricky Gervais. In, fact the show focuses on the life of tiny actor Warwick Davis. The seven-episode series has already aired in Britain, where one reviewer pronounced it "tripe."
In April, expect the new HBO comedy Veep, which takes place in the office of a fictional U.S. vice-president and stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, formerly of Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine. It's not an encouraging sign that this show has been in development for five years and was originally supposed to air on ABC.
There you have it: Three up, three down. Such is life in cable television, where show concept is key and the seasons are short – never more than eight or 10 episodes. The next stop for Hung, Bored to Death and How To Make It in America will be on DVD box set.
But what about those viewers who faithfully followed those three programs the past few years? Tough cookies. Santa skipped your house this year.
John Doyle will return.