‘Sons Of Anarchy’ And Four More Popular Shows That HBO Passed On

HBO isn’t exactly struggling these days. Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm (eventually), The Comeback — these are all highly watched or critically admired (or in some cases, both) series that make having access to an HBO Go account mandatory. Clearly, they’re doing a lot of things right. But it doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Here are five super-popular shows that HBO had the chance to snag, but declined to pick up for various reasons.

1. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are two of the biggest shows on TV, and HBO almost had them both. Producer Gale Anne Hurd originally approached NBC, an executive for which memorably commented, “This is awesome. I really love this. Does it have to have zombies in it,” and HBO. Oddly, they said no because of the show’s extreme violence.

Hurd wasn’t willing to compromise when it came to Kirkman’s vision. Which is why, when NBC and HBO both said that they’d be willing to commit to a The Walking Dead television series if the production team significantly toned down the graphic novels’ violence and gore, Gale said, “No, thank you,” and began shopping the show around to other networks. (Via)

But a mountain of a man popping another guy’s eyeballs? They’re cool with that.

2. Sons of Anarchy

Before Sons of Anarchy was FX’s Sons of Anarchy, it was almost HBO’s Forever Sam Crow, because, according to Variety, “[Creator Kurt] Sutter and [producers] Art and John Linson originally pitched Forever Sam Crow to HBO but eventually struck a deal with FX,” despite the cable channel having recently picked up a “different biker gang project.” Think how long the episodes could have been on HBO!

3. Breaking Bad

The first season of Breaking Bad began just over two months before the other contender for the greatest drama of all-time, The Wire, aired its last episode. Things worked out pretty well for AMC and HBO, but a lot had to happen for the future home of Low Winter Sun to acquire Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan met with TNT and FX, which both passed, before the “worst meeting I ever had.”

“The trouble with Hollywood — movies and TV — is people will leave you dangling on the end of a meat hook for days or weeks or months on end. That happened at HBO,” said Gilligan. “Like the worst meeting I ever had vs. the TNT meeting…and it was only like a day apart…The woman we’re pitching to could not have been less interested — not even in my story, but about whether I actually lived or died. My agents could never even get her on the phone afterward to even say no.” (Via)

4. Mad Men

Blame David Chase for Mad Men not being on HBO. Not only did The Sopranos creator give Matthew Weiner a writing job on his mob drama because of the pilot script, he passed it along to executives at HBO. That’s when things get as mysterious as what happened to Sal.

Weiner and Chase both told me that at one point HBO indicated it would make Mad Men on the condition that Chase be an executive producer, and Chase said he had further discussion with Weiner about directing the pilot, but despite being “very tempted” by directing, he said no to both propositions, wanting to move away from weekly television. Still, Chase championed the script, and Weiner said he never really got a straight explanation from the network for its pass, which still seems to irk him. “I would go through David Chase’s garbage if I was at HBO, trying to find more of what he does. But they were not like that.” (Via)

If it had been on HBO? There would have been more “nakedness and violence.”

5. Party Down

Party Down lasted on Starz for 20 glorious, wonderful, Lizzy Caplan-filled episodes from 2009 to 2010 before it was canceled because about 17 people were watching it. The Rob Thomas-created comedy has since become a massive cult hit, but it might have received better marketing, which could’ve led to more seasons, if it had been on HBO, as was originally intended.

ROB THOMAS: We initially sold Party Down to HBO, and at that time Paul was going to star in the Henry role. He was shooting Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and talking to Steve Carell about playing Ron Donald. And then we ended up turning in this outline to HBO, and we had one of those tragic meetings where you can tell that the two entities are on entirely separate pages. The first word out of the HBO executive’s mouth was, “We know outlines really aren’t supposed to be funny…” So we parted ways. (Via)

I’m actually glad HBO passed. No Paul Rudd (who co-created) directly resulted in Yes Ben Wyatt.