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The 5 Best HBO Series & Movies That Never Got Made

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It’s hard to believe but HBO turns 50 years young this month. To celebrate the half-century milestone, TV Insider not only selected our 50 Best HBO Shows list, we also asked Felix Gillette and John Koblin, authors of It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO, to share their picks for the best HBO series and movies that were never made.

1) Trump vs. wynn

In the early 2000s, HBO was developing an original movie, entitled Trump vs. wynn, which would dramatize the real-life battle between the two casino moguls over an undeveloped parcel of land in Atlantic City. Danny DeVito came on to direct and play a supporting role. HBO was set to make offers for Christopher Walken to play Trump and Harvey Keitel to play Steve Wynn. But then, following a dinner with Trump, DeVito changed his mind and backed out. Afterward, the project fell apart.

2) David Simon’s CIA Thriller

Following The Corner, TheWire, Generation Killand Treme, prolific HBO author David Simon was looking to get his next opus under way. He pitched the network on doing an international espionage series revolving around the CIA, based on the book Legacy of Ashes, a detailed history of the spy agency by Tim Weiner. HBO passed.

3) The Sopranos starring…Jim Belushi

long before The Sopranos became HBO’s biggest hit, the series first went into development with Fox. The broadcast network loved David Chase’s idea about a mobster in therapy and made a three-hundred thousand-dollar commitment to do six episodes. But by the time Chase submitted a script in December 1995, the Fox executives had soured on the idea after it finally dawned on them that the network’s standards and practices team and ad sales executives would balk at the gritty material. When Fox got cold feet, the show’s producers at Brillstein-Grey made a last-ditch pitch to the network: They promised that one of their clients, Jim Belushi, could be cast as Chase’s lead gangster. Despite the intriguing prospect of Belushi playing the character that would become Tony Soprano, Fox formally passed.

4) Mike White’s Drag-Queen-Nanny Comedy

Mike White, the creator of beloved HBO series Enlightened and The White Lotus, once wrote a script about a hard-charging drag queen who becomes a nanny for the three children of a conservative Texas family. White was passionate about it. But after committing to a pilot, HBO ultimately balked at making it into a series.

5) Jesse Armstrong and Frank Rich’s Neo-Imperialist Buddy Comedy

Before creating HBO’s hit drama SuccessionJesse Armstrong and Frank Rich teamed up to develop a project, commissioned by HBO, titled The Imperialists. The series centered around two American guys, just a few years out of college, who buy a coffee-bean farm in Africa. They plan to manufacture artisanal chocolate and coffee, and make a killing selling it to hipsters back in Williamsburg and Silver Lake. But complications ensue, and the bros get entangled in the geopolitical turmoil of the region. “It was sort of a buddy comedy with some geopolitics going on beneath it.,” Armstrong says. Adam McKay was set to direct the first episode. But ultimately HBO’s drama department — then mired in the depths of its Vinyl-era development logjam — lost interest.