2015 has been a year of significant growth in television. So much so, that some TV executives have speculated that there is simply too much content. The exponential growth of television content means that viewers can continually narrow their focuses without reducing the number of shows they consume. As the year comes to an end, TVEnthusiast is analyzing the medium of television. Throughout Christmas week, we will run a series of articles that look at television in 2015. Each article will focus on a different market of the industry. From Network to Streaming, if there was a means of consuming content in 2015, we will be covering it.
The Year in Premium Cable
To describe premium cable TV in 2015 would simply require one sentence: there are too many good shows to keep track of. HBO had a great year with yet another season of Game of Thrones that saw over 8 million viewers tune in for the cliffhanger season finale. Despite a mixed reception, True Detective’s second season still managed to hold its audience right through to the end. From Outlander to Black Sails, Starz continues to dazzle with its incredible original dramas. Showtime’s The Affair shifted its focus to psychological drama with amazing results while Shameless’ fifth season continues to find new ways to make its audience laugh. And to complement their incredibly successful Banshee, Cinemax is quickly carving its niche into original programming as The Knick’s second season became one of 2015’s most talked about shows, just as their popular special ops action series Strike Back aired its series finale.
But one surprising new trend among these premium cable providers is their foray into sitcom style comedy series. These shows have also managed to secure one or more high profile movie stars as the central characters for these new shows. Signing on such stars is most likely made possible due to the relatively short shooting schedule, which only involves 10-12 episodes at 30-minute episode lengths.
For instance, HBO’s Ballers, heavily marketed as an Entourage in the world of football, starred Dwayne Johnson, arguably the world’s biggest movie star, as a suave, tough as nails sports agent. Another brand new HBO sitcom, The Brink, teamed up Tim Robbins with Jack Black for geopolitical hi-jinks in a World War III scenario. And Togetherness saw the Duplass brothers, widely considered Indie film royalty, take to Home Box Office for their comedy about two couples living in the same house. Showtime’s Blunt Talk brought on Patrick Stewart as a controversial British talk show host. Meanwhile, the network also managed to lockdown comedian Steve Coogan for his signature brand of serious and screwball comedy for Happyish, a dramedy about a family man on anti-depressants.
Perhaps the biggest show on any premium cable network, however, was the reteaming of Bruce Campbell with director Sam Raimi for the much anticipated Ash vs. Evil Dead. The disappointing reception of the 2014 Evil Dead remake derailed plans to begin a new mini-franchise. The original plan was supposed to see Campbell reprising his role in Army of Darkness 2, and then after a straight up Evil Dead sequel, a crossover film with Ash and Jane (the heroine from the new Evil Dead) was to take place. Instead, fans just wanted to see Ash square off against new Deadites, and that’s exactly what Raimi and Campbell were able to sell to Starz for a series. The Evil Dead has long been known for emphasizing comedy over straight forward horror, and this series delivered just that.
On the more serious front, several filmmakers took to the miniseries format offered by premium cable platforms to tell longer, character focused stories that would most likely have been passed on by major Hollywood film studios. Director Andrew Jarecki had already made a film about real estate icon and suspected murderer Robert Durst called All Good Things with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. The film was met with mixed reviews and a dismal limited release, but on HBO, Jarecki was able to tell the story of Durst in an investigative and much more provocative documentary. This miniseries, called The Jinx, gained widespread acclaim, particularly in the wake of Durst’s arrest and subsequent first degree murder charge while the documentary was airing.
HBO would further team with BBC to produce The Casual Vacancy, an adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s satirical novel about a corrupt little English village. Critics claimed the amount of time the show spent on developing the characters and the relationships, which proved to work far better as a miniseries than it would have a feature film.
HBO also teamed with Crash director Paul Haggis and The Wire creator David Simon for Show Me a Hero, a political drama about a Yonkers, New York mayor battling the city’s public housing crisis in 1987. The miniseries starred Oscar Isaac, a quickly rising star who has been top billing in some of this year’s biggest films, including Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
While comedies like Web Therapy and Nurse Jackie aired their final episodes, premium cable has become home to a wide variety of new comedies with star-studded potential. As the big screen has shown that star power cannot attract audiences to the theater anymore, the opposite is true for TV. Stars are carrying these comedies to big viewing numbers and renewed second seasons.
What do you think? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast throughout the holidays as we continue to roll out articles on the current state of TV in 2015 and what to expect in 2016.