Category: HBO

'Game of Thrones' season finale hits new ratings high

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys on "Game of Thrones."
A new record has come to Westeros with Sunday's ratings for "Game of Thrones."

The Season 2 finale of HBO's fantasy series revealed the show's growing popularity, with 4.2 million viewers tuning in to the 9 p.m. broadcast, according to Nielsen. That set a new high mark for the series and was up a strong 38% compared with last year's Season 1 finale.

HBO said an additional 910,000 viewers turned up for a repeat at 11:10 p.m.

Overall, "Game of Thrones" has averaged 10.4 million viewers this season including regular broadcasts, video-on-demand, the network's HBO Go online service and DVRs. 

Meanwhile, HBO's political comedy "Veep," with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a harried, frequently disrespected vice president, delivered 1.2 million viewers at 10:10 p.m., for that show's second most-watched original episode so far.

Right after that, the critically acclaimed urban comedy "Girls" hit a series high with 1.1 million viewers.

What did you think of "Game of Thrones" and the rest of HBO's Sunday lineup?

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-- Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys on HBO's "Game of Thrones." Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

'Game of Thrones': Alfie Allen talks poor, misguided Theon Greyjoy

Game of ThronesTheon Greyjoy spent most of the second season of "Game of Thrones" making one bad decision after another in his quest to rule Winterfell in Robb Stark's absence. But after a series of increasingly despicable acts, he finally got a chance to shine in the season finale, rallying the troops before reaching quite an unexpected conclusion.

For actor Alfie Allen, that scene was one of his favorites of the entire season. The 25-year-old British actor (who's the brother of singer Lily Allen and son of actor and musician Keith Allen) has had a career on stage, television and film, but his role as Theon is his highest-profile to date. He spoke about his character and the season finale in advance of the episode's Sunday airing.

Would you describe Theon as misguided? Selfish?

I'd say both of those words. Definitely. On the selfish side of it, he's looking for a bit of status. He wants to be Prince Theon and he wants to have the ability to make his own decisions and decide his own fate, which has never happened in his life.  But he's also misguided -- he's trying to do things because he wants approval from his father. He thinks to achieve respect from the people in Winterfell, he needs to rule through fear. And that's never a good way to start off things.

But he just wants love. He wants to have this idyllic family with his sister. But it doesn't turn out that way. And when it doesn't, it leads him to make more of these decisions that he didn't usually make. I think Theon's trying to assert his power to the fullest of his abilities and to do that means doing despicable things. Even if that's not who he is deep down. I think in Episode 10 you see everything come back around and he realizes that maybe that wasn't the way to go about things. But he still knows he must continue in that same vein, because if he doesn't he may not respect himself. It's funny. In that scene in Episode 10, he finally gains the respect of his soldiers through being ready to die.

Your final scene in Episode 10 was one of your favorites from the season, correct?

It's cool. I shouldn't say he goes out in a heroic blaze, because he's not a hero. But he goes out in a blaze. People betray him that he put his trust in. I hope it was one of those points where you find yourself rooting for someone you didn't like for the whole series. When you see how badly he wants it, you'll find yourself rooting for him slightly. It'll twist your moral compass a bit.

What has been the public reaction to your character's despicable behavior?

Different. Some people hate me. Some people throw their arm around me and say, "Mate, I know where you're coming from." I think Theon is one of the most human characters on the show, to be honest. There's a lot people can relate to in real life. It definitely made it easier for me to play the character because I think it’s a universal theme that people are looking for the approval of their parents the whole time.

You were left to interperet Theon on your own, independent from how he's portrayed in the books?

Yeah, in the books Theon sets out to betray the Starks. That doesn't put him in a good light straightaway. So when we were talking about it in the first series, David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] were saying they were going to go there in a different way. So that he doesn't really know what he's doing. The way I wanted to play it was that he's going over to Pyke to enjoy a bit of status and also form an alliance between Robb and the Greyjoys and possibly command his own army into battle and to get the approval and respect of his father. But it all gets thrown back in his face and he's forced to make these brash decisions and he's pushed past the point of no return. He just has to carry on being that person. It's very sad.

Did that make it more palatable to you as an actor, to make him more sympathetic?

Definitely. It was something I set out to do.... There's a lot of people who sympathize with him and in a weird way, respect him. I just think there's a lot people can relate to.

In the first season you were part of the ensemble. In the second season your character was isolated from the rest of the main cast and brought to the front. Was losing the ensemble unnerving?

Not unnerving. It was funny that most of the people in my storyline were new characters, so often I found myself putting my arm around people saying, "Don't worry. Don't be nervous. I've been here before. I've done that." Being a "Game of Thrones" vet was a funny feeling. There were points during the first season where I was nervous, but I couldn't wait to get around to it. When I started to see some of the scenes they were adding for me...

There's Theon's final scene in Episode 10 that wasn't planned. And they wrote it halfway through the shooting of Season 2. I couldn't wait to get around to doing it. I didn't put much pressure on myself, to be honest. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone. I'm just trying to prove it to myself.  That's the whole thing about doing TV and film, there's the delayed reaction. In theater you get the feedback and approval straightaway and you feel good about what you've done. On TV, there’s the torturous waiting for five months.

Is this the longest you've been with a character?

It's definitely the longest I've been with a character. It's part of my life. I see Theon as me. But I see that in any job I do. You have to find similiarites in any character you play. As an actor, that's one of the challenges. When you get a part you make it real to yourself. And to make it real, you bring parts of yourself into the character.

After two years, do you still find new things about the character?

Massively, man! All the time. It'll come to you in a weird way. You think you have to sit in a room and think about it for ages, but it's not like that. You're constantly thinking about it. You'll be walking up the stairs and it comes to you. Really, that's being an actor. You torture yourself about it and then you move on. One thing that took me awhile to realize was that Theon has a determination to succeed. And that’s definitely something I've got. I definitely want to succeed as an actor.

How much time do you spend filming in Ireland?

All in all, about 30 days, but the shoot takes about four months. 30 days spaced over those four months.

The weather doesn’t get you down?

No, it's all in keeping with the show isn't it? It's good. I remember last time it was one of the coldest winters they'd had on record in 25 years. For us, it was quite difficult in the first season but HBO treated us well. They give us nice trailers we can go retire to. The armor helps us get into character too. It can get a little tiresome at times when you want to sit down and have lunch. You have to position your sword in the gaps in the chairs and stuff but it all helps. I love it.

RELATED:

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'Game of Thrones' star Carice van Houten on magic and Melisandre

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Alfie Allen. Credit: HBO.

Miami Dolphins to play ball with HBO's 'Hard Knocks'

Miami dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are teaming up with HBO Sports and NFL Films for the latest installment of "Hard Knocks," the cable network's series which offers an all-access pass into the daily lives and routines of a successful NFL team.

"Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins" will kick off its five-episode season on Aug. 7. This edition will also mark the 40th anniversary of what some sports fans call the greatest season in NFL history -- Don Shula's 1972 Dolphins, who had a perfect undefeated record.

Said Ken Hershman, president of HBO Sports: "This marks the first time that the series has featured a first-year head coach (Joe Philbin), and we are extremely grateful to both Coach Philbin and the entire organization for agreeing to participate. As always, there will be plenty on the line for veterans, free agents and rookies."

The Dolphins are in the competitive AFC West division. A 24-person NFL Films crew will live at the team's training camp in South Florida, shooting more than 1,000 hours of video over the course of the series.

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Photo: Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) warms up with other rookies and tryouts during training camp at the team's practice facility in Davie, Fla. Credit: Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/MCT

Track star Lolo Jones bashes critics after HBO virginity interview

 Lolojones

Lolo Jones may be able to fly over hurdles, but those obstacles are nothing compared with the blowback from her HBO interview.

In a segment earlier this week on "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," the comely 29-year-old track star -- a 2008 Olympic contender who looked bound for a gold medal until she got tripped up near the finish line -- said she's never been able to get a man to commit to her because she's a virgin and won't have sex until marriage.

This touched off a media firestorm that culminated with a TMZ TV segment, complete with ribald puns, ribbing Jones as a goody-two-shoes and even as possibly dishonest about her sex life. 

When a fan on Twitter suggested that TMZ had tried to make Jones look like a "lying, lonely virgin dork," Jones on Friday icily replied: "I've seen Celebs get teased less for releasing a sex tapes #ironic."

She didn't stop there. When another Twitter user suggested that Jones' cheesecake magazine shots are not in keeping with her Christian faith, she shot back: "Go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed." 

And to those who joked that with her values and sports prowess, she should be dating the religiously devout NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, the biracial Jones replied cryptically: "Ask Tebow if he wants a glass of milk. If he says yes, ask him if he prefers chocolate. if he says no, then no more Tebow date suggestions."

Jones is currently hoping to nab a medal at the London Olympics that start in late July. Looks like there'll be more fiery tweets between now and then.

What do you think of Jones and her "Real Sports" interview on HBO?

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Photo: Lolo Jones has hit back at critics after an HBO interview in which she said she's still a virgin. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

'True Blood' to get Mark Hudis as show runner for possible Season 6

Alan Ball"True Blood" hasn't yet been renewed by HBO for a sixth season -- Season 5 premieres June 10 -- but barring the Mayan-predicted end of the world in 2012, Sookie, Bill and the rest of the vampires, werewolves and fairies of Bon Temps will doubtless be back for more next summer. With one big difference: They'll have a new show runner guiding their adventures.

Series creator Alan Ball announced last summer that the fifth season of the show would be his last as show runner, but he's not leaving the world of vampires completely. He's staying on as executive producer, but co-executive producer Mark Hudis will be stepping up to the boss' seat.

Hudis has a long history with Ball; they worked together on the sitcom "Cybill" back in 1997. He joined the vampire drama during the show's fourth season.

Ball, meanwhile, is going on to develop his new crime series "Banshee" for Cinemax and his medical drama "Wichita" for HBO. Ball remains under a multi-year contract with HBO.

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Photo: Alan Ball, right, Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin on the set of "True Blood" during its first season. Credit: HBO.

TV Skeptic: 'Weight of the Nation' is light on balance about obesity

Weight of the Nation

To me, there is an 800-pound gorilla looming in the background of "The Weight of the Nation," the four-part documentary that began on Monday and concludes Tuesday on HBO. It's a menacing presence that may be hard to spot among so many 300-, 400- and 500-pound Americans on screen, but I know it's there because not so long ago I was obese.

The unseen presence, I believe, is the role that insulin plays in storing body fat. In my case, tackling that beast led to dramatic weight loss and greatly improved health and fitness.

I started learning about the relationship between insulin and fat nearly three years ago when a loved one was diagnosed with a tumor on the pituitary gland that could cause Cushing syndrome, which is characterized by a rapid progression to obesity. When our family first got this diagnosis I frantically researched the condition and learned that this tumor can start a series of responses in the body’s endocrine system resulting in high levels of insulin, which causes excess fat storage.

Whenever insulin levels in the blood rise, the body stores fat. In most people insulin rises after a meal, and rises higher after meals with a high carbohydrate content, especially simple carbs like sugar, pasta or white flour.

There is debate among scientists, researchers, physicians, nutritionists and other diet experts over just what causes obesity. One side argues it's a simple matter of energy balance: "calories in vs. calories out." The claim is that the first law of thermodynamics requires that any calories that enter the system must either be metabolized, expelled or stored, and the obesity epidemic is the result of excess calories and too little exercise.

Continue reading »

'Game of Thrones' star Carice van Houten on magic and Melisandre

Carice van houten game of thrones
When a TV series crams horse beheadings, frozen zombies, dragons, sword fighting and naked prostitutes into nearly every episode, it’s hard for a single actor to make a grand impact. But actress Carice van Houten has done precisely that in the second season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” As the mysterious red priestess Melisandre, Van Houten disrobed, exposing her very pregnant tummy, and lay down on the floor of a cave to give birth to a shadowy assassinating creature that appeared to be made of smoke.

It’s the kind of jaw-dropping moment that can create an instant fan favorite and make the performer a water-cooler topic. But according to Van Houten, who lives in the Netherlands and wasn’t familiar with the series or the novels it’s based on, she had no idea what she was walking into when she auditioned for the part. In fact, it took a little convincing from a surprising figure to get her to commit to the role.

“I called my friend Seth Meyers,” Van Houten recalled recently on the phone from her home in Amsterdam. “I asked him, ‘What is this? Is this good?’ He said, ‘Are you crazy? Say yes!’” (The two met years ago when “Saturday Night Live” cast member Meyers was living in Amsterdam.)

For someone who isn’t already a fantasy fan (Van Houten considers fantasy to be “goblins and Mr. Spock ears and green characters”), the appeal of a series based on George R.R. Martin’s sprawling, bestselling “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels may not be immediately apparent. But the saga’s complexity and willingness to break with convention has made fans out of many skeptics and turned the series into a hit, with the most recent episode drawing nearly 4 million viewers, the show’s biggest audience.

“I love the fact that this is so subtle,” Van Houten said of the drama. “There are no weird creatures … at first.”

Which brings her back to that startling scene in the cave. Van Houten was essentially nude for the scene, wearing only a prosthetic belly and a merkin.

Continue reading »

Critic's Notebook: Of 'Mad Men' and a long-lost Beatles cartoon

Jon Hamm as Don Draper
In what must be the most talked-about licensing of a song in television history, "Mad Men" ended its Sunday episode with "Tomorrow Never Knows," the last track on the 1966 Beatles album "Revolver." Acquired for a reported $250,000, this track -- which Depression-child Don Draper, listening at home on the suggestion of his young wife, takes off halfway through -- capped an hour that played, like the song, with themes of death and transfiguration, being and nothingness. (The episode took its title, "Lady Lazarus," from a Sylvia Plath poem about suicide.)

A quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money to pay for a song, you might reasonably think -- the hour also had the ad men discussing cheaper alternatives to licensing a track from the Beatles -- but one can see why creator Matt Weiner, who also wrote the episode, found it necessary: Even as psychedelia, "Tomorrow Never Knows" resists nostalgia; no other track on "Revolver," or any contemporaneous recording, would have said so well that the world had changed or betokened the historical moment's combination of existential ecstasy and dread. With its insistent, jagged drum pattern, its dropped-in tape loops, pedaling bass and oceanic C major drone, it is a blast from the future; formally, it has more to do with millennial electronica than with the pop music of its time, or, indeed, anything else the Beatles would record.

This was not, however, the first time, the song was used in a TV show. Back when the Fab Four were not even halfway through their recording career, they licensed their images and catalog to an American cartoon series, "The Beatles." (The mind reels, a little.) It had already been airing for a year, Saturday mornings on ABC, when "Revolver" was released. With speaking voices performed by Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov, Ludwig von Drake and Disney's Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean rides) and British actor Lance Percival, the animated moptops enjoy brief Hope & Crosby/Bowery Boys-type adventures, each thematically linked (by a hair) to a Beatles song, make fun of Ringo's nose and are chased by girls.

Continue reading »

New documents prompt fresh PETA complaint about HBO's 'Luck'

Luck

More bad news for HBO's now-canceled "Luck."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a new complaint with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the California Veterinary Medical Board and the Pasadena Humane Society alleging severe mistreatment of horses on the set of "Luck," based on a series of documents the organization says it obtained from an unnamed whistleblower.

According to PETA, horses on the set were deliberately underfed to save money, sick horses were used during filming, other sick horses disappeared from the set without explanation, improperly trained horses were used during racing scenes and horses were regularly tranquilized. PETA is not releasing the documents -- which it says include emails, complaint forms and notes taken after incidents on set -- to the press.

The organization says the treatment of horses was supervised by trainer Matthew Chew. It alleges that American Humane Assn. officers urged AHA executives to recommend Chew's removal from the production, but there's no evidence that any action was taken.

While there had previously been various allegations of animal neglect on the set, PETA says these documents are the proof.

In a statement, HBO said, "The safety and welfare of the horses was always of paramount concern.  While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, working closely with American Humane Association to review and improve protocols on an ongoing basis, it was impossible to guarantee no further accidents would occur. Accordingly, we reached the difficult decision to cease production."

It was certainly a costly decision. In Time Warner's earnings report this week, the company listed a $35-million "impairment" related to the cancellation of "Luck," which had just begun filming its second season despite low ratings.

The series, starring Dustin Hoffman as a mobster looking to control Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area, saw a number of animal deaths during production, with two horses euthanized during the first season and a third during the second season, which finally spurred the show's cancellation.

[Updated, 5:48 p.m. May 3: American Humane Assn. Chief Communications Officer Mark Stubis says, "Our folks are really vigilant and throughout they were consistently focused on the welfare of the animals. After the surprising and dismaying second accident, we demanded a number of protocols that would reinforce our already strict guidelines... If there was a horse in the morning that appeared sick or medicated, they were pulled and not allowed to be used in filming."

As to PETA's allegation that calls for trainer Matthew Chew to be removed from the production were ignored, Stubis says, "We did recommend [to the production] that a movie trainer be used and not a horse trainer."]

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 Photo: Nick Nolte in "Luck." Credit: HBO

 

HBO picks up Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson's 'True Detective'

Woody Harrelson to star opposite Matthew Mcconaughey in new HBO series

Woody Harrelson is coming back to a place where everybody knows his name: the TV series world. The actor will appear opposite friend Matthew McConaughey on HBO in "True Detective," Show Tracker has confirmed.

The cop drama was given an eight-episode order by the premium cable network after being shopped around to networks earlier this month. Written by Nic Pizzolatto (who has written for the AMC series "The Killing"), the first season will center on a pair of detectives, Martin Hart (Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (McConaughey), whose paths cross while searching for a serial killer in Lousiana.  Subsequent seasons will feature a new cast and story -- similar to the approach of "American Horror Story" on FX.

"True Detective" will be McConaughey's first series regular commitment -- maybe his cameo on "Sex and the City" 12 years ago gave him the TV itch? For Harrelson, though, it would bring him back to a small- screen series. His breakthrough role came in the mid-'80s when he appeared as the dumb but lovable bartender Woody Boyd on "Cheers." And HBO is familar territory for the actor, he costarred in the TV movie "Game Change" as Republican strategist Steve Schmidt earlier this year.

No word on when production will start or when "True Detective" will premiere.

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Photo: Woody Harrelson in April 2012 in Washington, D.C. Credit:  Paul Morigi / Getty Images

HBO's 'Girls' and 'Veep' get renewed for second seasons

'Girls' and 'Veep'Two first-year HBO comedies have been renewed for second seasons: Lena Dunham's much buzzed-about "Girls" and Armando Iannucci's "Veep." Both shows got 10-episode renewals.

Dunham's "Girls," which has aired three episodes, recounts the lives and loves of a group of twentysomething Brooklyn women (think a less fashion-y "Sex and the City"). It has been the target of much controversy, with some critics praising the realistic dialogue and fully fleshed-out female characters and others taking issue with the show's all-white cast and the fact that the performers are mostly the children of celebrity themselves.

"Veep," about the life of a fictional U.S. vice president played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, premiered to mostly positive reviews, although it has not yet achieved the must-see status of "Girls."

Both shows premiered to around a million viewers apiece. By comparison, "Game of Thrones" premiered to more than 2 million viewers in its first season.

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Photo: Lena Dunham in "Girls," left, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Veep." Credit: HBO.

Bill Maher brings his class act to UCLA for mtvU's 'Stand-In'

 

Bill Maher visits a UCLA class

[This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details]

Bill Maher chose an unusual way to mark the announcement of his deal with HBO for two more seasons of  "Real Time With Bill Maher." He went back to school.

Maher made a "surprise" visit to an American politics class at UCLA on Tuesday, delighting students in a packed lecture hall with his brand of edgy political wit while also expressing his concerns about the upcoming presidential election. The session wasn't exactly impromptu: The appearence was arranged and taped by mtvU, MTV's 24-hour college network.

The broadcast of Maher's "class" on May 7 will  launch the season premiere of the series on mtvU to more than 750 college campuses and on demand at mtvU.com.

Many in the class whooped and cheered when Maher walked in about 15 minutes after professor Tom Schwartz started the Introduction to American Politics afternoon session.

"How many here are for Obama?" Maher asked. Several students raised their hands. Several others raised their hands when asked who was a Mitt Romney supporter. Quipped Maher, "You kids can go to USC."

The comedian seemed generally impressed by the questions asked by the students, which included what effect Romney's Mormonism would have on voters and the impact of the Supreme Court's upcoming decision on the Obama administration's healthcare initiative.

He predicted that the election would be "hard fought" and that Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, would have to make a pivot to the center in order to gain wider appeal.

Maher blasted the "super PACs" ("This is terrible for American democracy") and said that Obama's biggest challenge will be the economy. 

After about 15 minutes, Schwartz asked if Maher had any final thoughts. The comedian raised his fist in the air, declaring, "Go Obama!"

[For the Record, 7:20 p.m. An earlier version of this post said the episode was the premiere instead of the season premiere.]

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 Photo: Bill Maher. Photo credit: Janet Van Ham/HBO.

 

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