Earlier today, HBO announced it was picking up Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers; this wasn’t a surprising pickup given the talent involved, but what was a bit more surprising was that the series is not being produced in-house at HBO.
Although HBO has been developing drama projects through other studios for a while now—always through big-name producers like Lindelof, or Shawn Ryan, or Ryan Murphy, or J.J. Abrams who are under overall deals with studios like Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Television, or 20th Century Fox—it was still a surprise to see a press release show up in my inbox from Warner Bros. Television about an HBO show. The Leftovers is the first such show to be ordered to series, and thus the first in what is likely to be a string of new HBO shows that they don’t fully own (although as was noted on Twitter, Time Warner owns HBO, so this remains in the corporate family).
It’s not uncharted territory for HBO (who co-produced Sex & the City with Warner Bros., and who entered a similar deal with ABC for Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies due to their overall deal with co-writers Stupnitsky/Eisenberg), but it’s a reversal of their more recent policy of owning shows they air and also the opposite of what’s happening in basic cable. At the same time AMC is shying away from working with studios like Lionsgate or Sony Pictures Television in the wake of disputes with those producers on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, HBO is reopening its doors to other studios, an interesting shift that privileges an emerging trend in development while—potentially—de-emphasizing a focus on distribution central to the HBO model.