HBO is a mess right, not least of which is because I don’t even know if we’re supposed to call it HBO or Max. HBO seems to exist within Max, but HBO Max has also been folded into HBO. HBO Max, meanwhile, is dead, but Max is the name of the streaming network.
But here is what we do know: HBO has a problem. It just canceled Winning Time after a shortened second season. It canceled The Idol several weeks ago. Barry is gone. Succession is gone. Perry Mason is gone. Because of the writers’ strike, things are so bleak right now on Max that there are no new series on HBO Sunday nights for six more weeks.
A six-week gap on HBO Sundays is unheard of during the peak TV era. What’s worse is that, when HBO Sunday nights return, it does so with a second-tier HBO series, The Gilded Age. For all of its flaws, I still love The Gilded Age, but the first season ran on Mondays because HBO Sunday nights were already filled. Fortunately, HBO still has seasons of Starstruck and Our Flag Means Death in 2023, but their next tier-one series is not until January when a Jodi Foster-led True Detective arrives, having been pushed to 2024 to fill a gap that will be left by the strikes.
It’s bad. It’s so bad that Max picked a strange month to finally start featuring a list of the streamer’s top ten series and movies. Like Hulu (which has a top 15), I suspect Max is doing so to provide some transparency to creators ahead of WGA/SAG negotiations. These Top 10 lists (or Top 15 lists) do not tell us how shows on these streamers fare against television series on other streamers, but they do tell us which shows on Max are the most popular. It’s how I knew that Winning Time’s cancellation was probable because it was placing third — HBO’s only Sunday night show was placing third. That’s telling. One of the shows ahead of it this week was the season premiere of Fiona and Cake, a spinoff of the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time.
In fact, neither series ahead of Winning Time was an HBO series. No, strike that: Seven of the top ten series are not HBO series. Here’s what is most striking: Five of the 10 most popular series on Max right now are AMC+ series that Max is borrowing for two months. Discovery of Witches is the top show, and it’s a series that AMC imported from Britain that ended in January 2022. Winning Time is getting its ass kicked by a nearly two-year-old British import (that I’m now kind of interested in watching).
How bad are things? Fear the Walking Dead is a bad spin-off of The Walking Dead. Everyone knows that Fear the Walking Dead is bad. It’s still the sixth most popular series on Max. On the bright side, shows like Gangs of London and Interview with a Vampire, which should have had much larger audiences, are now finally finding them.
That’s great news for AMC+, which is still the only place viewers will be able to watch the final season of Fear the Walking Dead or the next season of Interview with a Vampire. It’s not so good for Max, however, because in six weeks Max is going to lose half of its top ten series and it will have to make do with The Gilded Age on Sunday nights for the remainder of 2023.
One final note: Max folded in an immense number of reality and home improvement series from its sister networks Discovery, TLC, HGTV, the Magnolia Network, etc., and only one of the streamer’s ten most popular series — 90 Day: The Last Resort at #10 — is not scripted. David Zaslav should take note when the studios go back into the negotiation room with the writers this week.
At least HBO still has Real Time with Bill Maher … oh never mind.