HBO Going Under the Dome for 'God Save Texas'

Lights, camera, point of order in new political drama

Lawrence Wright's 2004 play, Sonny's Last Shot, now in development at HBO as God Save Texas
Lawrence Wright's 2004 play, Sonny's Last Shot, now in development at HBO as God Save Texas

For those of you who believe there isn't enough drama in the Texas legislature: HBO has announced it is developing a new political fiction series, set under our famous Capitol dome.

In a provincial spin on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, God Save Texas will feature a down-home, honest kind of Texas lawmaker who finds himself embroiled in all the corruption, pressure, gladhanding, and flawed morality that Texas politics can allow. The first season will concentrate on the ongoing drought, and put the power of the oil and gas companies (can we say fracking?) under the microscope.

Deadline actually broke the news a week and a half ago, but the information has finally moseyed down to Texas. The script will come from Lawrence Wright (author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and scripter of pre-9/11 homeland security paranoia piece The Siege) and produced by Lauren Shuler Donner (the X-Men franchise and, more pertinently, Warren Beatty's 1998 political satire Bulworth.)

That said, we've actually seen this story around Austin before. Wright is using his play Sonny's Last Stand as source material, and the 2004 production picked up a B. Iden Payne nomination for best comedy production, while both Wright and actor G.W. Bailey got nods in the 2003-4 Austin Critics Table Nominations.

Barry Pineo reviewed it for the Chronicle when it was staged at the State Theater back in 2005. Back then, it was a tale of a moderate rural Republican in the House, who breaks with his party on questions of homosexual rights and campaign finance reform. Of course, in 2015, there will have to be some pretty serious updating (for example, there's no such thing as a moderate rural Republican any more.) However, per Pineo's review, there should be some easy aspects to the adaptation: As he wrote at the time, "Wright's script was originally a screenplay, and the production has the episodic feeling often found in screenplays."

It's not surprising that HBO is trying to get into the political drama game. Ever since The West Wing, behinds-the-scenes machinations have been a ratings grabber. However, the non-cable world has stolen the march on this, with House of Cards on Netflix, and Amazon getting legitimate praise for Beltway comedy Alpha House.

Of course, locally, the question is how accurately will the series reflect chamber life. Wright's play had Big Bob Bigbee, seemingly a somewhat veiled version of the larger-than-life Bob Bullock. Will the TV show contain thinly-veiled versions of any lawmakers or staffers we know? Or, more importantly, how many hours will staffers spend trying to work out if that's an (un)flattering pastiche of their boss?

There's not even word whether the Capitol will play the Capitol yet. Shooting is still a long way away, and with runaway productions plaguing the film industry (including rumors that Nashville will leave Nashville) there's no guarantee this will be a local production.

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HBO, Lawrence Wright, Laura Shuler Donner, God Save Texas, Sonny's Last Shot, B. Iden Payne Awards, Austin Critics Table Awards

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