In the past year, Warner Bros Discovery has axed series left, right, and center and HBO’s Westworld is the latest casualty. Now there’s a growing concern in the industry that no series or movie is safe. The writing was on the wall when Lisa Joy, Jonah Nolan, and JJ Abrams’ genre drama wasn’t renewed while Season 4 was running, unlike the previous seasons. In a new report, The Hollywood Reporter reveals that plummeting reviews, ratings, and a massive budget were the catalysts of the series’ cancellation.
When ordered to series in November 2014 under former programming president Michael Lombardo, the futuristic Western originally was considered HBO’s hottest property after Game of Thrones. Season 1 of science fiction drama inspired by writer/director Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name, was made on an estimated $100 million budget – considered high by 2016 standards and attracted an A-list ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Thandiwe Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, and James Marsden. Right from the first season, Westworld capitalized on the sense of a cinematic experience with changing sets and characters being reborn in a completely new persona. The extraordinary cast and team behind the feature were rewarded with more than 50 Emmy nominations, with seasons one and two earning more than 20 each. Season three collected half that tally as ratings and reviews for its second setting tumbled.
The recent Season 4 felt lukewarm, the storylines felt all over the place, and the series that once gripped the audience tumbled to 4 million viewers when the dust finally settled. In contrast, Season 1 raked an estimated 12 million viewers. Per the report, Season 4 viewership, coupled with ratings (Season 4 sits at 54 percent audience score and 76 percent on critics’ on Rotten Tomatoes – the lowest ever for the series) was hardly enough to justify the expense of a $160 million budget for eight episodes on Season 4. In contrast, HBO just delivered House of the Dragon for $125 million, which earned about 29 million viewers per episode across all platforms over the course of its first season consisting of ten episodes.
In the recent investors’ call, WBD CEO David Zaslav made it clear that the studio won’t spend a dime on projects that aren’t helping them. “The strategy to collapse all windows, starve linear [television] and theatrical [box office] and spend money with abandon while making a fraction in return, all in the service of growing sub numbers, has ultimately proven, in our view, to be deeply flawed,” he said. Certainly, Westworld with its ever-changing storylines and settings wasn’t an easy property to produce or market. Originally, set for a six season run, its time had come when Zaslav’s regime took over. Alas! We’ll never know what would have been Dolores’ final test for humanity!
All seasons of Westworld are available to stream on HBO Max.