Will the Rugby World Cup usher in another big TV "game" for Kiwis: the long- delayed debut of 2011's most talked-about drama, Game of Thrones?
This epic fantasy from United States cable-television icon HBO is among the series Sky TV is believed to have been quietly buying for one of two high-definition channels it will launch after the World Cup.
Sky isn't commenting on its plans, which may be unveiled this week, but it is understood one of the channels will have a link with HBO, as Sky's sister companies do in the United Kingdom (BSkyB's Sky Atlantic) and Australia (Foxtel's Showcase).
If this were so, it would be drama nirvana at a time when the free-to-air networks have all-but abandoned the genre save for police procedural permutations.
In an era of wall-to-wall reality drivel, imagine a channel where new seasons of Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and True Blood screened alongside premieres (Game of Thrones, Treme, Mildred Pierce) and classics (Deadwood, The Wire), leavened by new and familiar comedies (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage).
It would be even better if such a channel could extend to other cable dramas, such as Camelot, Justified and Breaking Bad.
After all, while HBO leads this year's Emmy Award nominations, with 104 - double that of the most- nominated free-to-air network, CBS - cable rivals such as Showtime, AMC and FX also stand to win big at the September 19 ceremony.
Sky's Vibe channel will air the ceremony live.
For instance, four of the six drama nominees are cable-television commissions - and of the two that aren't, NBC's Friday Night Lights is so good it might well have been while CBS' The Good Wife at least stands out from the Law & Order, NCIS and CSI franchises.
Moreover, both of those series suffer the same fate here that many cable dramas do: they wind up late- night or go straight to DVD.
TVNZ and MediaWorks TV, which owns TV3 and Four, have largely deemed them too costly or too niche for prime time, hence Game of Thrones languishing for an audience here when it has been hailed around the world.
Some of its contemporaries make it to air by virtue of their inclusion in free-to-air output deals.Others exit prime time after only a few weeks, like TV One's Damages and Justified (the latter resumes 11pm tomorrow), and although the first two seasons of the outstanding Breaking Bad aired in premium slots, there is no chance of it bouncing back in peak-hour on a remodelled, more ratings-driven Four.
Similarly, Prime used to showcase Deadwood and Mad Men in prime time not only as a point of difference, but also because it had nothing else in the video vault.
But now that the channel has higher ratings and more product, it can afford to consign the most recent season of Mad Men, which is up for 19 Emmys, to 11pm.
Even worse, some dramas aren't picked up at all, such as the extraordinary Treme, a sublimely crafted series about the rebuilding of New Orleans that couldn't be more relevant here in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.
Some cable dramas do succeed here against the odds, like The Walking Dead, which finishes its high-rating first season on TV2 at 9.30pm tomorrow.
And TV3 sat on Sons of Anarchy for two years before reluctantly taking a punt on it midweek - and being rewarded with one of its biggest hits. So much so that it ran three seasons virtually back to back and is soon to test another cable drama in the same slot, The Borgias.
Of course, it's possible Sky may spread its new cable acquisitions across several channels, such as Sky Movies, The Box and Vibe.
Yet a dedicated HBO-style channel couldn't be timelier.
With Sky now in half the country's homes, and sports and movie subscriptions nearing saturation level, the pay-TV operator is well placed to win new subscribers by capitalising on disenchantment with the quality and quantity of free-to-air prime-time drama.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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