For most networks, welcoming back their most popular series is a cause for celebration. And while AT&T Audience Network is indeed excited for tonight’s Season 3 premiere of Mr. Mercedes, adapted from Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy of novels, it is also grappling with questions about the long-term future of not only the show, but the network itself.
AT&T Audience Network—which is available on DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and AT&T’s Watch TV skinny bundle (which is free for subscribers of AT&T’s Unlimited & More wireless plans)—was one of the company’s only entertainment properties prior to last year’s purchase of Time Warner (now called WarnerMedia).
But since that deal closed in June 2018, AT&T hasn’t publicly explained how Audience Network fits in among its new slate of cable networks like HBO, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network. Audience Network programming has so far been excluded from the content slate of AT&T’s upcoming streaming service, HBO Max.
When asked about Audience Network’s future and how it fits in with AT&T’s other cable and streaming properties, Shane Elrod, head of original programming and production for the network, told Adweek via email that his network will continue to exist at least in the short term, but offered no other specifics: “As we move into 2020, Audience Network will continue to be a premium destination for quality content. We believe in the original entertainment that we are offering and feel it is a differentiator for our customers.”
Elrod also declined to specify whether there have been talks to add Mr. Mercedes—which he previously said was the network’s highest-rated original series—or other Audience Network programming to the HBO Max lineup, saying only, “We are always looking at new ways and opportunities to collaborate across the various parts of AT&T.”
Mr. Mercedes executive producer and director Jack Bender said he hopes the series will end up on HBO Max, given that the DirecTV model is “a bit of an archaic formula” in today’s streaming universe, but added that AT&T is now “transforming that” with offerings like the upcoming OTT service.
“I only hope that we’ll be a part of that, or on some other streaming service. As much as DirecTV has let me make the show I wanted to make, which has been a luxury, you want it seen,” Bender said. “And it’s not, by enough people.”
Especially given the big names behind Mr. Mercedes, which is based on executive producer King’s trilogy about retired detective Bill Hodges (played by Brendan Gleeson). The critically acclaimed series—which Adweek named one of the best new TV shows of 2017—was developed by executive producer David E. Kelley, who co-wrote all of Season 3 with Jonathan Shapiro.
Audience Network recently wrapped production on Season 3 of the comedy Loudermilk and Season 2 of Condor (based on the novel Six Days of the Condor and the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor), both airing next year, according to Elrod. And even though the network hasn’t launched a new series since Condor last year, Elrod said the network is still open for business. “While there is nothing to report right now, we are always actively taking pitches and looking to develop new premium content for our customers,” he said.
Yet regardless of whether Audience Network continues or Mr. Mercedes ends up on a streaming platform, it’s still possible that Season 3 could be the end of the line for the show, which has now exhausted King’s novels: 2014’s Mr. Mercedes (the basis for Season 1), 2015’s Finders Keepers (covered in Season 3) and 2016’s End of Watch (Season 2’s storyline).
Audience Network will wait to see how Season 3 performs, and talk with studio partner Sonar Entertainment, before deciding on a potential fourth season for Mr. Mercedes. Bender said that he, Kelley and Gleeson would all also have to agree that they want to make Season 4.
“We’d all have to decide, yeah, this is a story we want to continue to tell, and we still think it’s valid,” Bender said.