'The Idol' canceled: Why HBO axed the Weeknd's controversial show after just 1 season

Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd starred in The Idol. (HBO)
Lily-Rose Depp and the Weeknd starred in The Idol. (HBO)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Idol has fallen.

Masterminded by Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye and slotted into HBO's prime Sunday lineup, the drama, about a young pop star (played by Lily-Rose Depp) entangled with a secret cult (headed by Tesfaye's character) seemed poised to become the network's next prestige play, following the likes of Euphoria, Succession and Game of Thrones.

Instead, beset by controversy and behind-the-scenes intrigue, the show didn't make it to a second season. HBO dropped the hammer on Monday.

"The Idol was one of HBO's most provocative original programs, and we're pleased by the strong audience response," the network said in a statement. "After much thought and consideration, HBO, as well as the creators and producers have decided not to move forward with a second season. We're grateful to the creators, cast, and crew for their incredible work."

Social media reaction was swift and decidedly against the drama.

The Parents Television and Media Council issued a statement saying it welcomed news of the cancellation.

"We are glad HBO heeded our calls to cancel The Idol, toxic sexually explicit fare targeted to teens," Melissa Henson, the advocacy group's vice president said. "The program's extreme and disturbing content — nudity, sexual abuse, torture — can be harmful to young viewers. Despite HBO's glamorization of the program and its cast, the show sunk into such depravity that even its audience turned against it, causing HBO to shorten its run by an episode and now, by cancelling it outright. We hope HBO has learned that marketing explicit content to teens is a losing scenario."

What was behind the decision?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, while there was no overarching plan for multiple seasons mapped out, producers of The Idol had ideas for where to take the show following the conclusion of its five-episode season, and it was only recently that the network decided not to move forward. In the July 2 finale, it was revealed that Depp's character was secretly playing Tesfaye's cult leader, a twist that reversed the power dynamics that had played out over the first four episodes.

As recently as June 15, HBO refuted a report that the drama wouldn't see a Season 2, noting that a decision had not been made on that front.

HBO even referred to episode 5 as the season finale.

However, there were signs that the show's future was in doubt when co-creator and showrunner Sam Levinson wound up making five episodes instead of the six that had been originally ordered. A source close to the production told Decider that that's all Levinson needed to "capture his vision."

Controversy from the start

Scandal plagued the show even before it debuted on June 4.

For starters, The Idol's original, female director and an actress departed the series early on, reportedly because Tesfaye thought the show was "leaning too much into the female perspective." He denied that was the reason.

Then, in March, Rolling Stone published a report in which 13 unnamed members of the cast and crew said the second version of the series had "gone wildly, disgustingly off the rails" and had become "sexual torture porn." One crew member said The Idol had gone from a story of a woman falling prey to a toxic figure in the industry to "like any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show — and then the woman comes back because it makes her music better." There was a lot more.

The network defended the show. "The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO's most exciting and provocative original programs," officials told Yahoo.

"The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change. Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew. We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon."