The evening of June 10, 2007 was a momentous one. The Sopranos aired its final episode, baffling a rapt viewing public with a cut to black that continues to be debated twelve years later. But while the final few seconds of "Made in America" were burned into this country's cultural memory, few people recall the show that aired immediately after. It was the series premiere of John from Cincinnati, the existential surf-town tone poem from Deadwood creator David Milch. With its stylized dialogue and the creeping certainty that the elliptical Christ figure at its center was turning out to be actual, literal Jesus, John from Cincinnati confused the viewing audience far more than The Sopranos ever could. The show garnered few fans and died after one season, but it remains a historical artifact as HBO's first failed attempt to produce a viable heir to The Sopranos as their signature drama.
It's important to realize that four long years passed between the end of The Sopranos and the beginning of Game of Thrones, an period that saw HBO grasping for shows that might ignite the country in the same way as its New Jersey mobsters. There were niche critical successes like In Treatment and Treme, and shows with Sopranos-like pedigree like Boardwalk Empire. The closest HBO got to a show that seeped into the cultural DNA was True Blood, but Alan Ball's vampire drama was always far too gory, campy, and frankly uneven to properly fill the void.
Twelve years later, with Game of Thrones dive-bombing on a dragon into the annals of TV history, HBO once again finds itself in the position of searching for its next show that can demand attention in the same way. At the very least, the show that will keep viewers from canceling their subscriptions. Just prior to the final GoT episode's airing. HBO ran a super-teaser that laid out all its upcoming programming, and at the very least it's clear that HBO is making an honest effort to find the next big thing. With a dozen or so new series plus high-profile returns like the impending Deadwood movie, and the second season of Big Little Lies, HBO would seem to have plenty of chances to strike gold.
Despite the high quality of returning shows like The Deuce, Insecure, High Maintenance, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO is understandably focused on its future. Is there a chance that Big Little Lies transitions so successfully from a miniseries to an ongoing series that it'll pick up that GOT mantle? Perhaps. But stringing along the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and now Meryl Streep for 5/6/7+ seasons seems an unlikely prospect. Really only two existing HBO properties earned placement on the following list of future hopefuls. With all due respect to The New Pope, for example, we've already seen the ceiling on how successful The Young Pope could be.
Using that super-teaser as a guide, here are the 12 new (and two returning) series and mini-series that have the best chances to ignite the public's imagination.
Premise: Contemporary look at teenagers navigating the rules of sex, relationships, drugs, gender, trauma, social media, the whole melange of modern life.
Talent Involved: Creator Sam Levinson (son of Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson) is adapting from the original Israeli series. Levinson previously directed the divisive film Assassination Nation, which dealt with similar themes in a a self-consciously confrontational manner. The cast is headlined by Zendaya, Algee Smith (Detroit), Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), and Maude Apatow.
Premiere: June 16
Show: Years and Years
Premise: British import about an English family dealing with their lives and relationships all under the rise of an outrageous celebrity who becomes a lightning-rod political figure.
Talent Involved: The series comes from acclaimed creator Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk; Doctor Who) and stars Emma Thompson as the seemingly Trumpian political figure. Rory Kinnear, Russell Tovey, and Anne Reid play members of the central Lyons family.
Premiere: June 24
Show: The Righteous Gemstones
Premise: A family of famous (and infamous) televangelists praise Jesus' name all while acting out in various greedy and deviant ways.
Talent Involved: Creator Danny McBride seeks to re-capture the Eastbound and Down energy as he also stars, alongside John Goodman and Adam Devine.
Premise: One of the two current HBO series that feels like it has a chance to become THE show, at least for the moment. Season 1 — which followed the back-stabby antics of the Roy family as they scrambled to maintain control of the family media empire when patriarch Brian Cox was on death's door — crept up on a lot of people who initially dismissed it as an unpleasant drama about awful people. By season's end, an increasingly vocal audience was fully onboard a show that was a lot more slyly comedic than it had let on. Season 2 has the potential to be a significant leap.
Talent Involved: Creator Jesse Armstrong (The Thick of It) benefits from an A+ cast that includes Cox, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Hiam Abbass, and Matthew Macfadyen.
Premise: The story is being kept under tight wraps, and not even the trailer offers much. We do know that the series takes place in the world of Alan Moore's graphic novel but after the events that were depicted in Watchmen.
Talent Involved: Damon Lindeloff is making this his follow-up project to The Leftovers, and while "the end of the world in an age of terrible miracles" is indeed a common theme, the vibe on this dark, brutal story could not be more different than the Tom Perotta novel he adapted previously. Regina King, Don Johnson, and Jeremy Irons headline the new cast.
Show: His Dark Materials
Premise: After the false start of 2007's The Golden Compass, HBO takes a crack at adapting author Philip Pullman's series of YA fantasy books.
Talent Involved: Dafne Keen, who made such a strong impression as the X-23 killer kid in Logan, takes the lead role of Lyra, while Ruth Wilson steps into the role Nicole Kidman played as the sinister Mrs. Coulter. James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda also star.
Premiere: Late 2019
Show: Mrs. Fletcher
Premise: Tom Perrotta's 2017 novel about an empty-nester single mom who begins to expand her horizons.
Talent Involved: Perrotta — whose authorial voice on The Leftovers was so crucial to that show's success — is writing the pilot with Nicole Holofcener directing, and most excitingly Kathryn Hahn is in the title role.
Show: Catherine the Great
Premise: The 18th century Russian tsarina gets her own mini-series biopic which will have special focus on the Hermitage art museum she created.
Talent Involved: Star Helen Mirren and writer Nigel Williams re-team after their Emmy-winning collaboration on Elizabeth I.
Premise: Here's where we make the case that Westworld could still be the heir apparent that HBO clearly wants it to be. While its first two seasons saw, on balance, more scoffing at its impenetrable plot than enthusiasm in anticipating the next new episode, Westworld remains the only show on HBO's roster to receive the kind of thorough dissection, clue hunting, and fan theorizing that has characterized Game of Thrones fandom (for better or worse). And with that twisty trailer that dropped moments before the GOT finale, featuring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul as a futuristic criminal antihero somberly narrating a global decline to the tune of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, only to at the last moment reveal (seemingly) Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores and the Westworld logo, enthusiasm spiked. Along with so many questions.
Talent Involved: In addition to Paul, Lena Waithe and Vincent Cassel have been cast for season 3.
Premiere: TBA 2020
Show: The Outsider
Premise: Based on the 2018 Stephen King novel, a local police detective is tasked to make the case against a little league baseball coach and family man for the grisly rape and murder of a young boy. The novel moves from police procedural to horror story, so expect twists and turns.
Talent Involved: Richard Price (The Night Of…) is handling the adaptation, with an all-star cast including Ben Mendelsohn as the police detective, Jason Bateman as the accused, along with Cynthia Errivo, Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, Julianne Nicholson, and Paddy Considine.
Premiere: TBA 2020
Show: The Undoing
Premise: Based on the 2014 novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, a successful New York City therapist is rocked by the revelations that her husband has been hiding myriad secrets and may be responsible for a murder.
Talent Involved: Screenwriter David E. Kelley and star Nicole Kidman re-team after Big Little Lies, with Susanne Bier (The Night Manager; Bird Box) directing and Hugh Grant playing Kidman's husband.
Premiere: TBA 2020
Show: Avenue 5
Premise: A futuristic space captain heming the titular Avenue 5 makes his way in the space tourism industry in this sci-fi comedy.
Talent Involved: This would be Armando Iannucci's American follow-up to Veep, starring Hugh Laurie as the captain, along with Josh Gad, Zach Woods, and Suzy Nakamura.
Premiere: TBA 2020
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: HBO, Avenue 5, Catherine the Great, Euphoria, Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials, Mrs. Fletcher, The Outsider, The Righteous Gemstones, Succession, The Undoing, Watchmen, Westworld, Years and Years