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‘Westworld’: HBO’s Sci-Fi Western Might Be the Next ‘Game of Thrones’

Big budget. Elaborate special effects. An impressive ensemble cast. Can HBO's new drama become as successful as its oldest?

Westworld James Marsden Evan Rachel Wood Episode 1

John P. Johnson/HBO

It’s no secret: HBO needs a hit.

The premium cable giant has been able to maintain a certain level of status over the past few years, despite hitting a number of uncharacteristic snags. “Vinyl,” their “next great drama” from the acclaimed minds of Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and Mick Jagger, flopped — commercially, it cost them a ton of money and suffered horribly in the ratings, while critically it failed to garner a single Emmy nomination (the network’s pride and joy). Combine that with a downtick in overall Emmy nominations and wins, a near-fatal underperformance from “True Detective” Season 2,(relatively) and quick cancellations for “Togetherness” and “The Brink” and, ultimately, the departure of long-time president Michael Lombardo.

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Thus, here we are: HBO has just three serialized dramas, one of which is on the way out (“The Leftovers” ends its brief run in 2017) and the other just kicked off… with the hopes of a network on its costly shoulders. “Westworld” debuted its first episode Sunday, and — similar to “Vinyl” at first glance — things are looking up. J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan are backing the project. The cast is a veritable list of all-stars. Critics responded well to the pilot (mostly). Even with these similarities, it seems unlikely “Westworld” will be the next “Vinyl.” But can it be the next “Game of Thrones?”

That’s the lingering question, especially considering that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ drama is set to end after a few more seasons. HBO needs a ratings monster to sustain its subscriber base as well as bring a fresh draw for HBO NOW. Moreover, it needs a series to pick up the slack at the Emmys next year, since “Game of Thrones” release delay makes it ineligible for the 2017 ceremony. Can “Westworld” do all this? Those are some big boots to fill, but perhaps cowboys — robot or otherwise — are just the ones to fill ’em.

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