HBO just canceled J. J. Abrams' huge sci-fi project

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HBO has pulled the plug on Demimonde, the new big-budget sci-fi drama from director J. J. Abrams. 

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Demimonde,  which was due to be Abrams' first solo creation for television since his original hit Alias, has now been pulled from production by HBO's Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys. 

The reason for HBO's decision has been put down to spiralling costs, which had seen the planned budget for the first season of Demimonde climb to over $200 million, and given that the studio has spent less than that on the entire run of new Game Of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon, the broadcasting giant baulked at the cost. 

Abrams is now to free to take the project elsewhere and is expected to begin talks with streaming services in an attempt to resurrect it. When the show was sold in 2018, HBO outbid Apple for the rights, so you'd imagine that the latter may well be Abrams' first port of call...

What was Demimonde going to be about?

Well, there are conflicting reports, but we were set to be in classic science-fiction territory. 

HBO's summary of the show only lists it as "an epic and intimate sci-fi fantasy drama", while Deadline reports that the series was to be built around "Olive Reed, who is torn away from her husband and daughter in a brutal scientific accident. She is forced to unravel a conspiracy to reunite with her family, now lost to a dark, distant other world."

This is a bit of a change from the show's original description, given to the Hollywood Reporter back in 2018, which said it would follow "...a family — consisting of a mother who works as a scientist, her husband and their young daughter — who all get into a terrible car crash. After the mother winds up in a coma, her daughter begins digging through her experiments in the basement and winds up being transported to another world amid a battle against a monstrous, oppressive force. Her father then follows her into this new world."

Either way, Danielle Deadwyler, star of Netflix's The Harder They Fall and HBO's dystopian drama Station Eleven, was due to lead the way as Reed, with no other cast members on board yet. 

We may never know, unless Abrams can find a buyer – he has made over seven billion dollars at the box office, mind, so you'd imagine it might be worth a meeting.

Analysis: Is J. J. Abrams' power on the wane? 

Whatever happens with Demimonde, Abrams is going to be a very busy man. 

He has just set up a new take on Speed Racer with Apple TV Plus, where he is also overseeing Presumed Innocent, a new team-up with Big Little Lies' David E. Kelley. Abrams is also booked to deliver a biopic on rockers U2 for Netflix and is developing new DC series Justice League Dark and Duster for HBO Max, as well as a new take on John Constantine. 

All of which suggests TV executives aren't ignoring his phone calls. 

More likely, this is HBO looking at their balance sheet and getting cold feet. The network is spending a huge amount on their new adaptation of The Last Of Us, which is expected to cost over $150 million, and has just dropped an eye-watering sum to make House of The Dragon. 

The network's two breakout hits, Euphoria and Succession, are booked for their third and fourth seasons respectively, and the talent for those shows, with their large ensemble casts, will be getting a lot more expensive. 

Warner Media, HBO's parent company, has now merged with Discovery, and multiple industry reports say that new CEO David Zaslav is taking a hard look at the company's balance sheet. Not spending over $200 million on a sci-fi series with no hit book or graphic novel behind it was probably an easy decision in light of that.  

Tom Goodwyn
Freelance Entertainment Writer

Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…