HBO To Sack Rome After Season 2

HBO is putting the kibosh on Rome after season two, considering a spring debut for The Sopranos’ final season and toying with its fall programming schedule by moving theatrical premieres from Saturday to Sunday, and premiering the entire new seasons of its fall lineup The Wire and Def Comedy on HBO On Demand six days before their HBO debut.

Rome, the epic drama HBO produced with the BBC, will not return on the network after its second season, which will debut Jan. 7.

The decision, according to HBO Chairman/CEO Chris Albrecht had to do with the fact that the notoriously expensive show was developed as a miniseries under a two-year contract with the BBC and it would have been difficult for the BBC to stay on for longer.

“This was a big bite for them,” he said. After Rome runs its course, HBO is eyeing early March as the tentative premiere date for the final eight episodes of The Sopranos, which will run into new Entourage episodes, followed by the summer return of Big Love.

Being considered for the second half of 2007 are John From Cincinnati, the new hour-long surfing drama being developed by Deadwood creator David Milch, and Sex Life, the hour drama from Roseanne executive producer Cynthia Mort about three couples who share a sex therapist.

In a fall scheduling shuffle, HBO will move its premieres of theatrical movies from Saturday to Sunday nights, along with new episodes of The Wire at 10 p.m.

The Sunday-night movie strategy, which will not continue after the fall, does not signify HBO’s giving up on Sunday night as its main night for original programming, according to Albrecht, who said the move “just seemed like a good thing to try for the fall.”

HBO has struggled with its more recent originals to find a hit that generates the kind of ratings it saw with The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Over four episodes, the network’s current major summer originals Entourage and Deadwood, have averaged 2.4 million and 2.1 million viewers, respectively, far fewer than the 8.9 million who watched the sixth season of The Sopranos.

HBO will premiere each episode of The Wire’s new season, along with those of the new season of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, on HBO On Demand (HOD) six days before their network debut, the first move of its kind for the network.

Both will be available on HOD on Sept. 4. The Wire’s fourth season debuts Sept. 10 and Jam returns Sept. 11.