Cinemax will officially kick off its rebrand as a destination for fun, mostly action-packed, original programming February 2 with the return of the series that started the network’s foray into originals six and a half years ago, Strike Back. It will be followed by thriller Rellik; crime drama C.B. Strike, based on J.K. Rowling’s novels; as well as the lighter second season of Robert Kirkman’s horror one-hour Outcast.
The lineup follows the blueprint Kary Antholis, president, HBO Miniseries and Cinemax Programming, outlined when the programming strategy shift was unveiled a year ago, with a goal to initially air four original series a year, three of them co-productions (or very cost-effective) and one marquee homegrown show with a Banshee-size budget tailored to the Cinemax audiences.
Strike Back, Rellik and C.B. Strike are being done under the co-production model. Outcast is a high-end drama, which was developed under Cinemax’s previous programming direction; Season 2 was ordered 18 months ago and already aired on the Fox International channels this year. The first homegrown tentpole drama targeted for Cinemax’s new initiative is the upcoming Warrior, from Jonathan Tropper and Justin Lin, based on original material by Bruce Lee. While not listed as part of Cinemax’s 2018 slate that currently goes through 3Q 2018, I hear Warrior is eyed for a late 2018 or early 2019 launch.
In addition to its core stable of adrenaline-fueled dramas, the network is planning to expand its audience via broader entertaining series, with Mike Judge’s recently premiered animated show Tales From the Tour Bus as a prime example.
“We are very excited to present a slate that moves Cinemax back in the direction of fun, often adrenalized, and always entertaining series,” Antholis said. “We have strategically seized upon co-production opportunities that allow us to maximize the impact and production value of these shows for our viewers.”
The Strike Back reboot with a new cast moves away from the Lethal Weapon buddy-cop format of the original series, led in its Cinemax incarnation by Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton, to a diverse ensemble in the vein of the Fast & the Furious franchise, which spreads the action among four characters — two male and two female. Meanwhile, Rellik (“killer” spelled backwards), a serial killer story told in reverse, “has a kind of Hitchcockian thriller quality to it,” Antholis said.
As for C.B. Strike (UK title: Strike), it had originally been earmarked for HBO. Following conversations between Antholis and HBO programming president Casey Bloys, the two concluded that the show “would have a greater impact” on Cinemax than on HBO, Antholis said. “We’re looking for opportunities to broaden our audience (on Cinemax) and appeal to viewers besides the kind of core adrenaline-action oriented viewer, and we had an opportunity with C.B. Strike — it’s a very appealing, entertaining kind of whodunit show.”
The C.B. Strike TV series is based on the three Cormoran Strike books published to date. BBC just wrapped airing five episodes, which span the first two books The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. The remaining two episodes, an adaptation of the the third book, Career of Evil, are slated for next year. Cinemax will run all seven episodes continuously over seven weeks. Rowling already has said that a fourth book is in the works, and Cinemax is open to future installments of Strike. “We remain in conversations with the producers about the possibility of Rowling writing more books and developing more series with the BBC,” Antholis said.
Along with C.B. Strike, Mike Judge’s Tales From the Tour Bus also is part of Cinemax’s strategy for “appealing to a broader audience beyond the adrenalized action, while keeping the focus on presenting fun, entertaining programs,” Antholis said. Fueled by a strong word of mouth, the series has seen audience growth that has been “stronger than any other recent shows on Cinemax,” Antholis said.
I hear there are already discussions underway about a second installment of Tales From the Tour Bus. Cinemax brass plans to use it as a calling card, rebroadcasting it in time slots adjacent to its new series to telegraph to viewers its renewed emphasis on fun shows.
Is there a future for Outcast beyond the upcoming second season? It is expensive, and, because its U.S. airing comes more than a year after the season was filmed, the options on the cast have long lapsed. Still, Antholis said he had recently discussed Outcast’s prospects with executive producer David Alpert. “We’re trying to give it its best platform,” Antholis said. “Ramping up our new slate of shows, and all the promotion that’s going into it, hopefully, will give it a runway.” As part of the effort, Cinemax will replay the first season of Outcast, which premiered in 2016, on Cinemax and make it available on HBO Go and HBO Now leading to the second season.
“I think the new season is very strong, and I hope it’s got a bit more fun and entertainment in it, and is a step forward,” Antholis said. “In success, we left open the possibility that we could have a conversation about figuring out a way to bring it back.” Because the show is so expensive, “part of the consideration in doing that will be, what are the constraints, are there other co-production opportunities that maybe have a more efficient impact,” Antholis said.
Cinemax is keeping the Friday 10 PM slot as home of its original series. “It’s in that sweet spot between when folks who are working come home, have put their kids to bed, and they’re essentially cracking open a beer before they go to bed, and before younger folks are going out,” Antholis said. “A lot of the college kids that really responded to Strike Back and Banshee would tell me that, when they’re at school, they’d gather and watch an episode of Strike Back and then go to a party at 11 or 10:45 when the episode ended.”
The launch of the new Cinemax lineup will be supported by a marketing campaign, which is still in the planning stages. Here is a first taste:
And here are details about the series that are part of Cinemax’s 2018 lineup:
STRIKE BACK (debuting February 2) returns for a ten-episode fifth season of adrenalin-fuelled action, introducing new members of Section 20. Disavowed and disbanded, the unit is restored to track down a notorious terrorist after a brutal prison break. Tasked with covert military intelligence and high-risk operations, the resurrected Section 20 embarks on a lethal manhunt that will uncover a vast web of interconnected criminal activity. As the team journeys across the Middle East and Europe, it uncovers a deadly conspiracy that threatens to change the face of modern warfare forever. Warren Brown (“Luther,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), Daniel MacPherson (“Infini”), Roxanne McKee (“Game of Thrones,” “Crossfire”) and Alin Sumarwata (“Burning Man”) star. MJ Bassett returns to executive produce and direct.
RELLIK (April 13), an original six-part thriller, stars Richard Dormer (HBO’s “Game Of Thrones”) as Gabriel, an obsessive and disfigured UK police detective, and Jodi Balfour (CINEMAX’s “Quarry”) as Elaine, his bright and intense partner. Focusing on a serial killer, the story begins with the capture of the suspect and moves backwards in time to the crime itself. Obsessed with his hunt for the killer, Gabriel’s story becomes intrinsically bound to that of his suspect, asking the question, “What are the experiences that forge the people we all become?” Four episodes are directed by Sam Miller, and two by Hans Herbots.
C.B. STRIKE (June) is a three-part event based on the best-selling crime novels written by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith. Starring Tom Burke (“Only God Forgives”), the story centers on Strike, a war veteran turned private detective, operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street. Although wounded both physically and psychologically, Strike’s unique insight and his background as a military police investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases that have baffled the police. The series launches with three one-hour episodes based on the first book in the trilogy, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (directed by Michael Keillor), followed by adaptations of the remaining two books, “The Silkworm” (directed by Kieron Hawkes) and “Career of Evil” (directed by Charles Sturridge), both of which will consist of two one-hour episodes. Here is a trailer for The Cuckoo’s Calling. You can see a trailer for The Silkworm under the post.
OUTCAST (July) continues the suspenseful mystery of what lies behind Rome’s supernatural manifestations in the second season of the Skybound/Image comic title by Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta. Patrick Fugit (“Gone Girl,” HBO’s “Cinema Verité”) stars as Kyle Barnes, a young man who has been plagued by demonic possession all his life. Now, with the help of Reverend Anderson, played by Philip Glenister (“Kingdom of Heaven”), a preacher who believes he is a soldier in God’s holy war against the forces of evil, Kyle struggles to protect those he holds most dear, now that otherworldly threats prove greater than anticipated. His struggle will grow into a fight for all of his hometown of Rome, as he discovers the haunting secrets of his own past.