backlash to the backlash

Is HBO on Its Way Back?

Sure, John From Cincinnati sucked. Sure, after we went crazy for the pilot of In Treatment, we never watched another episode, like everyone else except for those crazy fans the Times dug up. Sure, the only good shows left on HBO are Big Love and Flight of the Conchords, and we can’t even agree about Flight of the Conchords. Sure, the network just dumped Carolyn Strauss, the programming exec most responsible for HBO’s biggest hits. But is it possible that HBO, rather than being on its last legs, might actually be at the beginning of a revival? We think so!

For whatever reason, since the departure of Strauss, the network has made a couple of canny moves and watched as its next big series has passed its first real test in the marketplace. Most importantly, though, the network has announced the series that we think just might save it: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl.

We know that the book, based on Tracy Quan’s dispatches, only sort of followed through on its promise. It was neither as sexy nor as revelatory as we hoped, and sacrificed a keen sociological eye for soapy plot. On TV, though, we’d much rather have the soapy plot, and that’s why we’re glad that Darren Star is signed on to produce. We think this show is perfectly aligned at the nexus of money, sex, vice, and power, and is therefore perhaps the platonic ideal of an HBO show.

Meanwhile, since Strauss’s departure, the channel has also green-lit such smart ideas as a new show from the Mr. Show guys and a remake of the awesome-sounding British series Suburban Shootout. Meanwhile, John Adams is getting the best ratings for any HBO mini-series in years. And even as the network (and everyone) mourns the death of Anthony Minghella, the pilot he shot for HBO’s potentially fantastic The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has garnered great ratings in its BBC premiere.

HBO has suffered mightily as its best shows shut down and other cable networks — Showtime, FX, even SciFi — began airing the kinds of daring series that used to be HBO’s sole domain. Here’s hoping the smart people at the pay network get back on track, because when HBO’s good, there’s never been anyone better…even way back in 1983.

Is HBO on Its Way Back?