After dominating the music world, superstar Abel Tesfaye (better known as The Weeknd) has set his sights on new terrain: television. The singer is starring in, co-writing, and executive producing HBO’s The Idol, a music industry drama he co-created with Reza Fahim and Euphoria’s Sam Levinson. Lily-Rose Depp will star.
If you’re expecting this to be a dark and twisted saga in the vein of Euphoria, you’re not wrong. The series is so far being touted as “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood,” and it’s said to follow “a female pop singer who starts a romance with an enigmatic L.A. club owner who is the leader of a secret cult,” per Deadline. Depp and Tesfaye have been cast in those roles, respectively.
However, as the wait for the premiere continues, the show has made headlines for happenings behind the scenes, from changes in direction to reportedly disgruntled crew members, especially following a report in Rolling Stone.
Here’s what else to know.
When will The Idol be released?
The exact date has not been announced yet; but HBO said the show is coming in “2023” in the third teaser released last fall. The network also didn’t confirm the premiere date to Rolling Stone.
Who is in the cast?
Fellow singer and actor Troye Sivan appears in the trailer, in a yet-undisclosed role. Jennie of the K-pop group Blackpink makes an appearance too. Shiva Baby star Rachel Sennott will also star.
Several casting announces had been made over the past year, including: Melanie Liburd (This Is Us), Tunde Adebimpe (Rachel Getting Married), Steve Zissis (Happy Death Day 2 U), Elizabeth Berkley Lauren (Showgirls), Nico Hiraga (Booksmart), Anne Heche (Six Days Seven Nights), Juliebeth Gonzalez, Maya Eshet (Teen Wolf), Tyson Ritter (Preacher), Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards), Liz Sierra (God’s Time), and Finley Rose Slater (Playing With Fire). However, the cast and crew underwent changes when an overhaul of the show was announced last spring. The full and final cast list remains unclear.
Is there a sneak peek of the series?
The Weeknd premiered the first teaser trailer on tour at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, July 16.
Following the teaser release, The Weeknd and The Idol’s official Instagram account have been sharing stills from the upcoming show.
On Saturday, Aug. 21, the second teaser trailer was released online after debuting at the Weeknd’s concert in Las Vegas the night before. The trailer emphasizes the sexy side of the industry, before a character played by Jane Adams says, “That’s sex… That’s what we’re selling.”
Just in case you couldn’t tell.
A third teaser arrived on October 6.
Why was the show overhauled?
In late April, HBO told Deadline that it was “adjusting” The Idol’s cast and crew mid-production, citing a “new approach” to the show. A spokeswoman for the network said:
“The Idol’s creative team continues to build, refine, and evolve their vision for the show and they have aligned on a new creative direction. The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series. We look forward to sharing more information soon.”
Shortly after, news broke that director Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience), who was supposed to helm every episode of the series, had left the project. Cast member Susanna Son (Red Rocket), who was playing a cult member in the series, also reportedly exited.
Deadline reported that Tesfaye was unhappy with the show’s creative direction, with sources saying he felt it was “leaning too much into a ‘female perspective.’” However, IndieWire reported that Depp’s character was always meant to be at the center of the series from the start. The outlet added that the creative team “was effusive in its support of the script and rough assembly” but Tesfaye “later voiced his concerns and wanted reshoots.”
Seimetz also reportedly didn’t plan on directing the final episode due to scheduling conflicts with the DC series Sweet Tooth, which would film in New Zealand.
What’s going on behind the scenes?
On March 1, Rolling Stone reported that production on The Idol had gone “wildly, disgustingly off the rails,” citing 13 sources including crew members and individuals with knowledge of the show. One source called it a “shitshow” given the reported delays, reshoots, budget issues, and multiple last-minute script changes.
There was also reportedly a concerning change in direction when Levinson came on to direct following Seimetz’s exit, including more explicit content and nudity. As one production member described it, “It was like any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show—and then the woman comes back for more because it makes her music better.”
Depp, however, told Rolling Stone that Levinson is the “best director” she’s ever worked with, and she’s never “felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued.”
And while Levinson and Tesfaye declined to comment on the story, Tesfaye later publicly responded on social media, saying, “Rolling Stone did we upset you?”
HBO also responded, telling Variety in a statement, “The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change. Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew.”
Sources also told Variety that the sources quoted in Rolling Stone hadn’t seen the finished product of The Idol, which is supposedly maintains a “female perspective.” One insider told Variety that only the pilot was reshot, so claims about budget were “overblown.”
Watch this space for updates.