HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” was one of the bright lights for HBO this Emmy season, one reason it’s probably no surprise that HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys hasn’t closed the door on the idea of bringing back another season of the series created by Brad Ingelsby and starring Kate Winslet, also an exec producer on the project.
“Brad and Kate and the producers are all talking to see if they think there’s a place to go,” Bloys revealed to Variety. “I think we’ll hear from them in a couple of weeks if they think that it’s a story worth telling, and they’re excited by. I’m excited to hear and see what they have to say.”
“Mare of Easttown” and its stars are among the frontrunners in the key limited series categories as the 73rd Emmy Awards take place on Sunday night. Boasting 16 nominations, “Mare” helped the network land a strong 94 noms (along with HBO Max’s 36, making for a combined 130 — more on that in a moment).
The show was a spring phenomenon for the premium cabler, a rarity that was universally lauded for its satisfying ending and the kind of series that competitors readily admit they wish was theirs. Another chapter of “Mare” would put it on a growing list of programs that were initially produced as one-offs but continued on as series in success, including PBS’ “Downtown Abbey” and HBO’s own “Big Little Lies.”
“Mare” could end up with the opposite fate of “Lovecraft Country,” which led HBO’s count with 18 nominations, including drama series, but did not go forward for a second season, as creator Misha Green later shared on social media. Bloys is still vague on why “Lovecraft” won’t continue.
“When you make the decision to not go forward with a show, it’s usually a confluence of factors,” he said. “And that was the case here. It has to be something we think makes sense for us. In this case, we couldn’t get there …
He continues: “I don’t think it would be fair to point at any one particular thing. I think that the work Misha did, and the recognition that I got, this doesn’t change any of that.”
This is the first Emmy season for Bloys overseeing HBO and HBO Max original content, having added those duties for WarnerMedia’s streamer a little over a year ago. Given that some of HBO’s most recent Emmy darlings weren’t eligible for consideration this year, including “Succession,” “Barry,” “Westworld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it wasn’t a given that the pay cabler would have a successful year with voters. But newcomers including “Mare,” “Lovecraft Country” and “I May Destroy You” picked up that slack.
It was also a successful first full eligibility season for HBO Max, and those combined 130 noms narrowly put HBO/HBO Max above Netflix’s 129 in the Emmy tallies.
“It’s a fun competition,” Bloys said. “It’s hard competition. But I think ultimately, what matters is the programming and that’s not going to change regardless of you know how many nominations we get, or wins.”
But that combined 130 count caused some raised eyebrows in the industry: Rivals complained that HBO and HBO Max are two different platforms, and should be listed as such. (ABC and Hulu, also now under same management, have their tallies separated out.) TV Academy president Maury McIntyre told Variety in July that HBO and HBO Max were merged in the tally because, quite simply, they asked.
“We can only go off what we have given from a submission perspective,” he said at the time. “And that’s how we report it out. How was it reported to us in terms of its platform or its network, etc. But, it’s a question for me moving forward as to whether we should be inserting ourselves in that count.”
Bloys said that HBO and HBO Max will continue to submit their Emmy nominations as one combined entity. “To be honest, I was surprised that anybody was surprised that we would ask the TV Academy to count them together,” he said. “It’s the same management, same business affairs, same production and HBO shows air day and date on HBO Max… the whole stated purpose of HBO Max, the platform, is to allow HBO to continue to do what it does, and not have to ultimately rely on a linear cable world.”
Much of the initial HBO Max slate was already in place when Bloys took over, but he was there for the successful launch of shows like “Hacks” and “The Flight Attendant.” Asked to describe the difference between HBO and HBO Max shows, Bloys admits that both of those Emmy darlings could have aired on HBO — “a high class and happy problem to have.”
But Max is also home to “Gossip Girl,” which is designed to appeal to a much younger demo than HBO. (When asked about “Euphoria,” he points out that the Zendaya drama is “a much more adult-themed show than ‘Gossip Girl’ is designed to be, especially because it’s centered on addiction.”)
Besides “Gossip Girl” and “The Flight Attendant,” Bloys also points to James Gunn’s upcoming DC series “Peacemaker” as an example of an HBO Max original vs. an HBO original. “That’s a world, specifically DC, that HBO typically wouldn’t have done,” he said. “And when you’ve got someone like James Gunn who wants to do that, it’s a great way to take advantage. When you think about those shows, they all feel slightly broader than what HBO might typically do.”
Bloys hesitates to compare Marvel Studios’ plans for Disney Plus to WarnerMedia’s DC strategy for HBO Max, but said, “I think they have obviously a big advantage like we do as a company, Marvel for Disney and DC for WarnerMedia, to have access to those characters, those stories, those worlds.”
Heading into fall, Bloys has a stacked deck on tap: “Succession” returns for Season 3 on Oct. 17, while “Curb Your Enthusiasm” also returns for Season 11 next month. Also coming this fall is the “Sex and the City” sequel series “And Just Like That.” The hefty fall volume comes as happenstance, given how COVID-19 production delays prevented a sooner return for series like “Succession.”
“The shows should have been on last year,” Bloys said. “So to some extent, we are still responding to getting shows back on back online. Going into 2022, I feel like we’re back up to full capacity. So the only grand strategy we had is these are all shows that were going to appear at certain points in 2021, and we just had to get them done in a safe manner as possible. So here we are, luckily, we got them done and ready to go.”
Next year, Bloys said he’s bullish on the returns of “Barry,” “Euphoria,” the second seasons of “The Flight Attendant” and “Hacks,” as well as the premiere of “Peacemaker.” He also pointed to HBO Max’s upcoming “Julia,” based on the life of famed TV chef Julia Child. “Sarah Lancashire is playing Julia Child, and she’s coming for her Emmy, I’m telling you now,” Bloys said.
Other projects on the horizon include the “Game of Thrones” series “House of the Dragon,” which was briefly shut down due to COVID-19 but is back in production — but “nothing to report in that world, other than they are busy shooting,” he said.
COVID contingencies have been a priority concern over the past year, Bloys said, and it took some time to adjust. “Last fall, it felt like a kind of gargantuan task to figure out: How are we going to do this? How are we going to do it safely? What happens if somebody tests positive?” he said. “The sad reality is, having done it now for a while, I do think that we’ve all learned a lot in terms of how to produce shows in a safer manner. It does take longer, it’s more expensive. But I will say in terms of dealing with exposure, dealing with cast or crew who have actually gotten it, we’ve all learned a lot. I look forward to the day where we don’t have to worry about this. And we don’t have to shut down production.”
As for the shutdown on “White House Plumbers,” which wasn’t COVID-related but instead due to an altercation on set between EP David Mandel and a crew member, Bloys would only say that issues “have been resolved.”
Also, there has been no news on a rumored “Harry Potter” series for HBO Max since news broke at the start of the year; according to Bloys, “You haven’t heard anything because there’s nothing to report on that.”
And then, of course, there’s Mike White’s surprise summer sensation “The White Lotus,” which has been renewed for a second season. “You never quite know when it hits the air, when it gets absorbed by culture, is it going to be something people talk about, obsess about?” Bloys said. “And I think first and foremost, the quality of the work will do that. But I think the subjects that he was examining are really timely. It turned out to be exceptional timing for a show like this. And I think everybody who Mike cast was doing some of their best work.”
Bloys said White had an idea for a second season from the very beginning, “and I will say, my initial reaction was basically questioning, ‘How would you do it? How would it work?’ When he told me his ideas at a different resort, I said, ‘Oh, okay, that makes perfect sense.’ I think anytime you get Mike kind of locked into an idea he’s excited about really terrific stuff happens.”
The second season “could be somewhere in Europe,” Bloys hinted, and added that it’s still not determined whether “White Lotus” will be classified as a drama or an anthology series. That may come down to casting. “Maybe there’s a character that pops in here or there, but it’s going to be mostly a new cast, new narrative,” he said. “Mike is thinking and possibly writing now.”
As for the timing for when a second installment might appear: “There’s a lot to do, he’s got to settle on a location,” Bloys said. “But one thing that Mike does, he moves very quickly. So we’ll see.”