The gorgeous and ambitious science-fiction epic Westworld from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy is the latest casualty in the Warner Bros. Discovery cutbacks. With only two seasons left to complete the story, the show was canceled, firmly severing the creators’ ties with Warner Bros. The decision to cancel Westworld feels as coldly calculated as the decision to cancel Batgirl or any number of other scrapped projects. Even networks at the level of The CW typically give long-running and formerly successful shows at least one shortened season to wrap up the story. However, three years ago Nolan and Joy signed an overall deal with Amazon Studios after their WB deal ended. They stayed on for Westworld, and it was clearly their priority. Yet, now that it’s over, the two storytellers are free to dive into their next projects. The Fallout series for Prime is one of the more hotly anticipated ones.
There was also likely a flaw in the premise as far as Warner Bros. Discovery’s decision-makers were concerned. The show is called Westworld, yet so much of what happens in it is outside the park. At least on House of the Dragon, the people get their flipping dragons! Fans of cinematic television wanted to at least see where Nolan and Joy ended up. Yet, of all the harsh decisions made by Warner Bros. Discovery, this one makes the most practical sense.
Westworld Had Huge Ambitions, Some That Went Over Fans’ Heads
Westworld is a massively expensive series, and Warner Bros. Discovery is desperate to cut costs. Whether the series needs a $100 million budget or could do with a smaller one probably never came up. Nolan, at least, comes from a family that will crash a real plane into a real hangar because it looks cool. The hook of that first season in the park caused a genuine Lost-like sensation. And, in typical Bad Robot production fashion, when the answers started to roll in, interest began to wane. When the show debuted in 2016, it earned about 12 million viewers across TV and pre-HBO Max streaming. The most recent season only earned 4 million viewers, compared to House of the Dragon‘s 29 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Game of Thrones started with a smaller budget than Westworld did, yet as each season escalated its story, so did the ratings. The war and family stories of Westeros resonated with viewers, telling a very familiar story. Westworld also had that same sense of escalation. But rather than swordsmen and dragonriders, the threat facing that world was more cerebral. Nolan and Joy told a remarkably ambitious epic about the future of technology and capitalism. Yet rather than encouraging repeat viewings, the complexity caused HBO viewers to flip to wherever Game of Thrones was.
Batgirl never got the chance to stand on its own merit, to see if the $90 million investment paid dividends. Westworld, however, had four seasons over eight years to grow its audience. Unfortunately for everyone, it didn’t.
The ‘Too Ambitious’ Westworld Is Reminiscent of Early HBO’s Rome
In 2002, HBO and BBC teamed up for Rome, a historical series with a budget of more than $100 million, unheard of at the time. It was also one of the few series that took two years to deliver its second season. Though, Rome had cause to be delayed. Despite the show being every bit the hit it was supposed to be, the production cost was just too high to justify sticking to the five-season plan. The second season squeezed as much of that story in as it could, but the saga remains unfinished. That’s a lot different than being a “failure.” Westworld is like that and will be appreciated for years to come.
Like Westworld is now, Rome is a beautifully ambitious series that makes almost no financial sense. And budget isn’t always directly proportional to quality or fan reaction. The $500 million budget for The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power almost works against the show, causing viewers to judge it through a harsher lens. It’s not mentioned enough that part of the Warner Bros. Discovery deal was taking on the debt of the previous regime, hence the frantic need to cut costs. With Nolan and Joy at Amazon Studios, it’d be almost irresponsible for the company to keep Westworld after its other more controversial cuts.
Despite the appearance, Warner Bros. Discovery is likely not doing any of this out of something as foolish as vindictiveness. If anything, it’s the inevitable learning curve that happens when a cable company takes over one of Hollywood’s largest studios. From Batgirl to Westworld, these cuts are just another “layoff.”
All episodes of Westworld are streaming on HBO Max.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly