If time heals all wounds, then HBO could be on the brink of a miraculous recovery. Two years after a public shake-up in the executive suite amid a nagging perception in Hollywood that the former home of The Sopranos had lost its mojo, HBO will unveil an ambitious lineup in 2010 to help it ride the momentum of hit series True Blood back to king-of-cable status. In addition to a third season of Blood next summer (which, at a cumulative 12.6 million viewers per episode, is already the network’s second-most-watched drama ever behind Sopranos) and an already busy slate of critical faves (Big Love) and cult hits (Eastbound & Down), HBO will launch four new shows and an epic miniseries. Among them: How to Make It, a comedy from Entourage exec producer Mark Wahlberg about two striving twentysomethings in the Big Apple (Feb. 14); The Pacific, a 10-part miniseries from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg about WWII (March 14); Treme, a drama from The Wire’s David Simon that chronicles a post-Katrina neighborhood in New Orleans (premiering in April); and Boardwalk Empire, a Martin Scorsese-produced series about Prohibition-era Atlantic City (fall).
Meanwhile, HBO — which, like EW parent Time Inc., is owned by Time Warner — is generating heat for a pilot that it hasn’t even picked up yet: the network’s adaptation of the fantasy book series A Game of Thrones, starring Sean Bean and Lena Headey. Filmed entirely on location in Ireland and Morocco, Thrones supposedly boasts a budget that rivals that of the famously lavish Rome, but HBO co-chairman Michael Lombardo is quick to point out that all the network’s shows have to meet high expectations — especially in light of stiff competition from the likes of Showtime and USA. ”We are taking shots on shows that we wouldn’t have taken a shot at five years ago,” says Lombardo, who, with co-chairman Richard Plelper and entertainment president Sue Naegle, has developed an unprecedented number of pilots. ”We opened our arms and invited people to come in and pitch things even if they didn’t think it was HBO. We stopped second-guessing ourselves.”