With HBO Max’s “Generation” joining HBO’s “We Are Who We Are” and “Euphoria” on the WarnerMedia-owned streaming service, the overall HBO brand is looking a lot more youth-focused these days.
Speaking virtually from the all-remote Television Critics Assn. winter press tour, head of HBO and HBO Max programming Casey Bloys told Variety that that wasn’t part of some “grand plan” to attract younger viewers.
“What was interesting is ‘Euphoria’ was done at HBO before [HBO] Max, before I took over both,” he said. “It was a kind of realization that even at HBO… you have to kind of keep reinventing what an HBO show could do. And so this one was probably the youngest star we’ve ever had for an HBO show. But essentially it is a show about the struggle with addiction that happened to be set in high school, but it’s a really weighty and serious topic.”
HBO’s decision to add another young show to its lineup last fall, Luca Guadagnino’s “We Are Who We Are” — about teens on an American military base in a little Italian town — “wasn’t [part of] any sort of grand plan, other than I like to have a pretty diverse slate, in all senses of the word.”
Next up is Lena Dunham-produced “Generation,” created by father-daughter duo Daniel and Zelda Barnz, follows a group of high schoolers in a conservative community exploring their sexuality and belief systems. On the “Generation” panel earlier Wednesday, star Justice Smith noted that youth-oriented series tend to get a lot of thematic comparisons to each other that adult series aren’t subject to. “Generation,” he said, simply takes stock of the “zeitgeist” of how adolescent life is lived these days, and offers a realistic depiction.
Still, Bloys acknowledged that drawing in more young adults to the less-than-year-old HBO Max streaming service is important to WarnerMedia, which is looking to grow its paid subscriber base. There are currently 17.2 million activated HBO Max subs, doubling in the fourth quarter, with a total of 41.5 million combined HBO and HBO Max subscribers in the U.S. But the market is competitive, and it’s hard to ignore Disney Plus’ nearly 87 million paid subs in its first year on the market, with its Star Wars and Marvel franchises attracting younger viewers.
“With [HBO] Max, what’s nice about having ‘Euphoria’ and ‘We Are Who We Are’ — we’ll have ‘Generation,’ we’ll have ‘Gossip Girl,’ we’ll have the Warner Brothers library — that young adult demographic is important for Max going forward. And so every show that adds to that, whether it’s on HBO or Max is a good thing for us to build up that brands so when young adult subscribers come in, they have shows to check out and places to go,” said Bloys.
Meanwhile, in the wake of “Buffy” and “Angel” actor Charisma Carpenter alleging Wednesday that Joss Whedon “abused his power on numerous occasions,” the circumstances of Whedon’s exit as showrunner of HBO’s “The Nevers” has come under fresh scrutiny. Whedon, in a statement last November, had said then that he was unable to meet “the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic.”
When asked whether Whedon voluntarily stepped away as showrunner of HBO’s upcoming series “The Nevers” or whether other circumstances or allegations were involved, Bloys declined to elaborate.
“No, unfortunately, I don’t have anything to add beyond his statement, and that he has left,” he said. “We have a new showrunner and she’s been working on the show, so I don’t have anything to add beyond the statement that was put out.”
For now, HBO and HBO Max is looking ahead to its upcoming slate, including Kate Winslet’s “Mare of Easttown” and an untitled Jean Smart comedy. The pandemic has thrown a wrench in production across town, which will likely have an impact on the upcoming Emmy awards season.
“Obviously, the shows that we wanted to have on in ’20 and ’21 are still in production,” said Bloys. “So it’ll be an interesting year. But as usual, we’ll put our best shows out on HBO and Max and [have our] fingers crossed and hope that Emmy voters are happy.”
Variety's Elaine Low contributed to this post.