Why did HBO cancel The Idol?

The Idol
The Idol /

HBO’s The Idol became one of the most buzzed-about shows of 2023, albeit not for the reasons the network wanted. Now the word has come down it’s been canceled, but what really happened? Here’s what we know!

Created by Euphoria producer Sam Levinson, The Idol was one of the most anticipated shows of 2023. It starred Abel “The Weekend” Tesfaye and Lily-Rose Depp as pop stars who embark on a twisted romance and quest for fame, meant to be the next big HBO prestige drama.

Instead, the show was hit by a huge backlash due to its content and performances. The reviews were terrible, and it seemed to attain an audience only for those who enjoyed “hate-watching.” This led to a twist in episode 5 being the season finale, one episode shorter than the planned finale.

So it’s not too much of a shock that HBO has indeed axed the show with a spokesperson trying to make it sound like a positive move.

"“‘The Idol’ was one of HBO’s most provocative original programs, and we’re pleased by the strong audience response. After much thought and consideration, HBO, as well as the creators and producers, have decided not to move forward with a second season. We’re grateful to the creators, cast, and crew for their incredible work.”"

So why was The Idol finally axed just months after the finale?

The Idol’s behind-the-scenes mess

Besides the reviews and the ratings, a key reason for The Idol being canceled was the massive behind-the-scenes issues. The original version, filmed by Amy Seimtz, included a different supporting cast, such as Elizabeth Berkley and Anne Heche. But in April 2022, Seimtz left amid rumors the Weekend wanted to change the storyline. Levinson thus came in and reportedly reshot most of the series with new actors. That set the planned premiere back while creating bad buzz on the show.

There was also a clash between The Weekend and Rolling Stone, who gave the show a horrible review in a story about toxic behavior on the set. That HBO hasn’t been releasing viewing numbers for episodes after the premiere isn’t a good sign, either. To top it off, the show cost a reported $75 million to make, too expensive for most networks.

Combine all that with HBO cutting costs by axing several shows and the backlash, and The Idol ended up being far too risky to try for another season. Thus, what was going to be HBO’s big show of 2023 instead turned into one of the network’s most notable flops, and that controversy doesn’t always equal ratings success.

The Idol is streaming on Max.

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