HBO Nixes Pilot for Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections”

HBO Nixes Pilot for Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections”
And this is how he looked BEFORE he heard the news: Franzen.
(Courtesy Getty Images)

One of the most ambitious and sophisticated drama series attempted by HBO has fallen at the first hurdle: The pay-cabler has rejected the pilot for “The Corrections” and canceled the projected series based on Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed 2001 novel.

Instead, the channel has renewed Lena Dunham’s “Girls” for a second season and ordered eight episodes of crime novelist Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective,” starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as cops who cross paths while working on a 17-year-old serial killer case in Louisiana. It is also launching Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” and renewing “True Blood,” “Treme,” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

“The Corrections” intricately examines a troubled Midwestern family, the Lamberts, whose patriarch has Parkinson’s Disease and whose children have moved East and made hashes of their lives – the eldest son is a depressed banker, the second son a disgraced academic, the daughter a chef sexually involved with a married couple. With Dad passing into dementia, they reunite at home for a last Christmas together.

Scott Rudin optioned the rights of Franzen’s book and originally commissioned David Hare to adapt it. Stephen Daldry was attached to the project but dropped out; likewise Robert Zemeckis. It was then floated as an HBO series to be adapted by Franzen and Noah Baumbach, with Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding,” “Greenberg”) directing. A stellar cast – Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Dianne Weist, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans – was assembled and the pilot was filmed in February.

What went wrong? It’s rumored that the decades-spanning narrative, which shifts backwards and forwards successfully on the page, proved too confusing on screen for HBO’s perceived audience (which has presumably never seen one of Nicolas Roeg’s non-linear movies or Dennis Potter’s television masterpiece “The Singing Detective”). Whatever the reason, the non-appearance of a Noah Baumbach drama is a substantial loss. Here’s hoping Showtime or another cable channel picks it up.