Jonathan Nolan

‘Westworld’ HBO’s Most-Watched Premiere Season … Ever

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It didn’t start out strong, but Westworld sure found a way to finish spectacularly. Not just with a 90-minute finale, but propelling the science-fiction series straight for a new milestone.

westworld1-inset120616More than 2.2 million people tuned into HBO to watch the finale Sunday night, joining another 1.4 million on the premium cable channel’s streaming services HBO Go and HBO Now.

And, according to Deadline, that pushes total viewership across all platforms to 12 million on average, making it HBO’s most-watched first season ever.

Both of its premiere numbers were series highs, with HBO viewership up 7 percent from last week alone, and streaming rising 5 percent.

Westworld already earned itself a second season. And if you’re wondering why HBO would wait until at least 2018 to start showing it, especially with the first season this successful … don’t blame HBO.

Showrunner Jonathan Nolan talked to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Josh Wigler after the finale, and said it’s actually their fault HBO (and fans) will have to be the most patient they’ve probably ever been to find out what happened in the aftermath of the season finale.

“Look, we said to the network very early that this was a different kind of show, having gone through the experience of making the pilot. Game of Thrones is incredibly ambitious, and that was part of the reason we knew we wanted to make this show with HBO.

Game of Thrones kind of has written the book on production value for television, and how to make something that has all the scope and scale of cinema for a TV show. They also have an advantage of having (George R.R. Martin’s) amazing books, or had it for the first (five) seasons, which gives you a leg up. I still don’t know how they turn those seasons around in a year. It’s astonishing.”

The Westworld production, however, is “enormously challenging and ambitious,” Nolan said. And so is the writing.

“So we said very early on that we wouldn’t be able to turn this around every year, and knowing full well that that’s been a time-honored tradition in television. But in film, my other life, on the Batman movies, the best we could do is turn another one around in three years. I really feel like we’re splitting the difference here.”

And putting more than a year between seasons really is not all that alien to HBO. In fact, Game of Thrones will return for Season 7 about a year and a half after the last season started, primarily because of filming requirements (winter has come, if you haven’t heard, and they need to film in more snow, which pushes production later than it has been in the past).

sopranos-inset120616But one of HBO’s first hits, The Sopranos, was never in a hurry to return either. The first season premiered in January 1999, with the second season right on schedule in 2000.

However, by the third season, the premiere floated a few months back to March 2001. The fourth season was even later, beginning in September 2002, 18 months later.

The biggest gap for The Sopranos, however, came for the final season, which debuted on March 12, 2006 – a little more than two years after the premiere of the previous season.

But it’s not just developing a solid story that requires Nolan and fellow showrunner (and wife) Lisa Joy to have more time. He also doesn’t plan to keep all the action in Westworld, the theme park, itself.

“For Lisa and myself, with this show, we never had any intention of staying in one place. We don’t want to shoot on the same sets for 10 years. We want to blow the sets up and move onto another piece of the story. 

“So we said when we started working on the series that we wanted to be ambitious. We wanted each season to increase in that ambition and in the scope of the show.

“It also follows the story of our hosts. Their lives begin in loops, and then expand and change and grow. It’s an origin of a new species. We want to follow that story all the way to the bitter end.”

The Writers Guild of America, the main union representing Hollywood’s writers, already has noticed Westworld. The show was nominated for two awards Monday morning for both drama series and new series.

In the first category, it will compete with fellow HBO show Game of Thrones along with The Americans and Better Call Saul on FX, and Stranger Things on Netflix. Among new shows, its competitors are again Stranger Things, two FX shows Atlanta and Better Things, and NBC’s fast-growing new drama, This Is Us.