It’s been over a month since HBO’s “Westworld” was canceled, leaving four seasons of occasionally convoluted prestige TV storytelling unresolved, but we’re still getting details about what went on behind the scenes and what the show’s streaming fate will be. The latest news comes from The Hollywood Reporter, which cites anonymous sources indicating that “Westworld” could have possibly continued with a lower budget and on a different streaming platform than HBO Max.
According to THR’s sources, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan passed on the idea of producing “Westworld” season 5 on a reduced budget for Warner Bros. Discovery’s FAST (Free Ad-supported Streaming TV) platform. The ratings for “Westworld” had declined precipitously from an audience of 1.8 million, when its first season aired, to about 0.03 million viewers for the fourth season, and it seems Warner Bros. Discovery decided to cut its losses and leverage the show as a FAST tax write-off. One unnamed source said, “The FAST service would allow them to have their cake and eat it, too. Get the write-off of pulling the show from the main service and do something new with it, too.”
If this is true, then it would mean HBO hadn’t pulled the plug on “Westworld” completely and was still willing to let the creative team behind it wrap up the show’s sci-fi narrative, albeit under less-than-ideal circumstances. For Joy and Nolan, making that sort of compromise may not have been practical, since the story they were telling had long since moved beyond the cowboy confines of the Westworld park — and, perhaps, the ability to be told on a low budget.
Going the way of Batgirl and Carnivále
Though the fifth and final season of “Westworld” is not happening, we learned previously that the show’s main cast would still get paid millions for it. We also heard that HBO was mulling a move to FAST for “Westworld” and other shows like “The Nevers,” and this new report lends more credence to that, with THR reiterating that Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting costs and seeking out license partnerships in an effort to reduce its overhead.
Keep in mind that this is the same company that shelved the “Batgirl” movie after it had already been shot. It’s a shame to see “Westworld” become a victim of business strategy, and there’s a part of me that wonders if the show couldn’t have simply returned to the original Westworld park — where it worked best, anyway — for its final season. But I guess we’ll never know what the ending of “Westworld” might have looked like unless Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan decide to talk about what they had planned (much like Daniel Knauf, the creator of HBO’s “Carnivále,” once did after that show was similarly canceled). Who knows, maybe they’ll pull a Mike Flanagan and make a Tumblr account dedicated to the lost season. Only time will tell.