Apple’s streaming service hasn’t launched yet, but the company has already canceled Bastards, one of the original shows it was planning for Apple TV Plus.
It was an issue of creative differences between Apple executives and Bastards showrunners Howard Gordon and Warren Leight, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Bastards was conceived as an eight-episode series about two best friends who served together during the Vietnam War. Their lives take a depressing, monotonous turn after they return home, but everything changes 50 years later when the woman they were both in love with is killed in an accident. Their anger and resentment toward the world boils over, and they go on a shooting rampage.
Gordon and Leight wanted to focus on the darker aspects of the story, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and Apple executives disagreed. Instead, they reportedly wanted Gordon and Leight to focus on the more uplifting story of friendship between the two men, one of whom was supposed to be played by Richard Gere. Apple is reportedly looking for “aspirational programming,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, and the showrunners’ direction didn't fit that descriptor.
The decision speaks volumes to Apple’s programming attitudes. The company has reportedly planned from the beginning for its offerings to be family friendly, in an effort to make the majority of its content accessible to everyone.
Apple is reportedly looking for “aspirational programming”
It’s almost the antithesis to HBO, a channel that produces fewer shows than its network and cable counterparts, but targets well-tailored series to an adult audience. HBO became famous in the early and mid-2000s for its shows about anti-heroes, like Tony Soprano from The Sopranos and Omar Little from The Wire. Other networks, like FX and AMC, tried to cash in on the trend and ordered their own adult, often anti-hero-specific series, including The Shield, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. While HBO will continue to produce these types of shows for WarnerMedia’s streaming service, HBO Max, and FX will produce its own version of adult-oriented series for Hulu, Apple isn’t trying to compete in that arena.
Apple TV Plus will likely have more in common with Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, than HBO Now. Disney+ is also launching with a few original series geared toward families. Unlike Disney, however, Apple doesn’t have a back catalog of beloved films and TV shows that people can snack on while waiting for new shows. Apple is likely to offer a free trial for Apple Plus TV to show subscribers what the company is trying to do, including series like The Morning Show (starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon) and Dickinson (starring Hailee Steinfeld). The service will also be bundled with products like Apple Music and Apple News down the line. Still, the company’s catalog isn’t as big as any of its competitors, making canceling even one show this deep into planning feel like a significant move.
Of all the companies gearing up to enter the streaming wars, Apple is one of the biggest curiosities for critics and experts. The company is one of the strongest financially, with more than $210 billion in hand and a content budget of more than $6 billion. Apple has the luxury of wanting subscribers, but without needing to rely on them or Apple TV Plus for the company’s continued success. This is different from a company like Netflix, whose entire revenue comes from subscriptions. Still, reports of creative differences leading showrunners to depart series and a lack of overall content for a paid service could leave potential customers feeling wary.
More details on Apple TV Plus, including an official launch date and subscription price, are expected to be announced at next week’s Apple event. Hopefully, they’ll also announce just how much of the service’s new content will be available to watch at launch.