Not that we don't love the thing, but we're a little dispirited by the extent to which top-flight filmmakers are ready to jump ship to HBO. Increasingly the home to A-list directors like Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Darren Aronofsky, it's becoming one of the few places that smart, prestigious adult projects are treated as if the people who paid for them aren't ashamed of them (witness the push given to, say, "Boardwalk Empire" versus Fox Searchlight's burying of "Margaret"). But furthermore, it seems to be becoming the answer to what happens when a big-screen project hits the rocks.
Ron Howard's megabudgeted version of "The Dark Tower" set up its TV portion at the network after Universal pulled the plug on the project, while only a couple of days ago, Stephen Daldry told how he's planning on making his long-awaited adaptation of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" as an eight-part miniseries for the pay-cable channel. And now, Leonardo DiCaprio is becoming the latest glittering name to be associated with HBO, with a second project joining the Robert Schwentke-helmed "The Lobotomist" at the network.
The star's production company Appian Way has been working on an adaptation of Josh Bazell's acclaimed crime novel "Beat The Reaper," about an E.R. doctor who used to work for a mob family and is outed by a patient, for a while. The project had been set up at Fox and New Regency, with a script by "Rounders" and "Ocean's Thirteen" writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, and oddly, "Disturbia" director D.J. Caruso told us earlier in the year that he was going to make it his next project, something swiftly and comprehensively denied by the studio.
Fox have seemingly given it up, as Deadline reports that the project's now in the works, still under the banner of New Regency and Appian Way, joined by LBI Entertainment, as a potential HBO series, with the network beating out three other suitors. It seems that DiCaprio's no longer attached in an acting capacity (it would be a hell of a coup for pay-cable if he was…), but we're sure that, should the project move forward, there'll be no shortage of names wanting to get involved further.
As we said, however, we've got mixed feelings about this one; we're concerned that, with so many projects coming to HBO, and only so many prime-time slots available, it's becoming as much a graveyard of projects as anything else, and we wonder how many of these announced projects will make it to the air. Ultimately, we'd always pick the big screen over the small, and we worry that too many potentially great films may be being lost to television, particularly if they end up being changed in the attempt to make an open-ended, long-running series. Still, "Beat The Reaper" has landed somewhere where it can be as dark and uncompromising as the source material, and we guess that's something to celebrate.