Reports have already begun to trickle out about the whys behind HBO’s decision to cancel Westworld this weekend, and it turns out that this was not, by all accounts, one of those elaborate and multi-layered narrative conundrums that the show so loved to traffic in, but more of a caveman murder mystery: Show cost too much, show lose ratings, show get hit by rock.
Honestly, that seems to be it: In a world where House Of The Dragon just brought in nearly 30 million viewers per episode for HBO on a budget of $125 million, the fourth season of Westworld averaged about 4 million viewers while costing $35 million more. HBO reportedly waited on renewing the show to see if the most recent season took off on streaming; when it didn’t, kersplat.
That being said, there is at least a bit of good news for the show’s cast: HBO apparently exercised their pay-or-play contract clauses for a fifth season last year, ahead of season four, meaning that Evan Rachel Wood, Thandiwe Newton, and the rest of the show’s performers will still get paid as though a fifth season was being made, a sum reportedly adding up to some $10 million. (Don’t feel too bad for series creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, either; they recently signed a massive deal with Amazon to create shows like The Peripheral—although that deal did carve out room for them to continue showrunning Westworld up through a then-hypothetical, and now outright-fictitious, sixth season.)
Somewhat surprisingly, sources talking to multiple outlets have apparently asserted that this cut was not a direct result of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav picking up his beloved chainsaw and doing a bit of choppin’, but a more straightforward “How much are we getting for all this money?” assessment from the network itself. It’s not for nothing that Westworld launched as one of the most expensive shows HBO has ever produced, with network president Casey Bloys stating at the time that the show was a major risk. Even as streaming TV budgets continuing to massively inflate, with deep-pocketed companies like Amazon muscling into the space, paying 160 million bucks for a season of TV that most people just sort of shrugged at is pretty wild money math.
That being said, it’s not hard to see the move as a culture shift for HBO, which often seemed to operate with a “money is no object” mindset to creating prestige TV. (At least, before Jeff Bezos and his various elves and Harfoots showed up to demonstrate what “money is no object” really looks like.) It’s not for nothing that Zaslav, during a fairly brutal investors call this week, declared that, “The grand experiment of creating something at any cost is over.”
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