HBO Boss Offers Updates on 'True Detective,' 'Deadwood' and His Broad Drama Push

Tackling the 'Confederate' controversy head-on, Casey Bloys also greeted TV reporters with franchise updates and some insight into why stand-up specials have gotten too expensive.
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Casey Bloys

With record-breaking Game of Thrones ratings and an enviable 111 Emmy nominations for his prestigious pay cable suite of programs, the most of any network, HBO's Casey Bloys was due for a victory lap during Wednesday's meeting with reporters at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour — but, as he seemed keenly aware, there was also going to be a bit of a reckoning.

The programming president was speaking publicly for the first time since news broke that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss' next series, Confederate, would imagine slavery in the contemporary U.S. and a public outcry ensued. "If I had it to do over again, I would have the four producers sit with journalists," said Bloys. "HBO's mistake was [thinking] that we would be able to announce an idea that was so sensitive in a press release. … People don't have the benefit of the context from the producers that we had."

Complete context — Bloys did elaborate a little, saying the series isn't "Gone With the Wind 2017" and "it's not whips and plantations" —  is something that is unlikely to be fully expressed for some time. After all, it's going to be at least a year until the project gets up and running. Confederate overshadowed other potentially hot topics, such as Bill Maher's use of the N-word on Real Time and lingering questions over what pricey deals with Jon Stewart and Bill Simmons might yield now that their original projects have been canned.

Bloys was instead pressed on what his subscriber base will be seeing more of (a wider variety of dramas and a new cycle of True Detective) and the projects still on the back burner (don't celebrate that Deadwood movie just yet — or hold your breath for more The Night Of). He also deftly avoided confirming or denying the planned rollout of Game of Thrones' eighth and final season. "Scripts are written and they're boarding it all out," Bloys offered. "They're trying to get a sense of how long it's going to take to shoot this."

Here are the main take-aways:

Expect More True Detective Before More The Night Of
With the first run of The Night Of recently scoring 13 Emmy nominations, and the second installment of anthology True Detective leaving a sour taste in critics' mouths, it's natural to assume that more of the former is a priority at the network. Not so! Steven Zaillian has yet to pitch a new idea for his justice-system drama. True Detective has almost a full season written. "I've read five scripts on the new season and I think they're terrific," Bloys said of the Nic Pizzolatto project, which has already locked in Oscar winner Mahershala Ali to star. "When we find a director, we'll be a go on that." 

The 2016 Election Version of Game Change Is Still in the Works
Since announcing plans for a follow-up to Game Change, itself a spiritual successor to Recount, HBO has kept mum on how its movie about the Trump-Clinton election may look. "The guys are writing a book and thinking about a movie at the same time," said Bloys, referring to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. What it won't include, he promised, is anything involving the current administration, adding, "Whatever happens with this administration, [this project] is focusing on this specific campaign."

Diversifying Drama Is a Top Priority
Bloys has expressed confidence that Westworld is the heir to Game of Thrones' flagship status, so the focus now is on finding different kinds of drama — not necessarily expansive genre undertakings. "We didn't have a lot of variation in drama," the exec said of the network he inherited a year ago. "I'm trying to get high-quality dramas with a lot of different feels to them. For a while, we were just looking for the next big tentpole." One different kind of hourlong on the horizon comes from network favorite Alan Ball. The family drama, once titled Here, Now, is described by Bloys as "a mix of True Blood and Six Feet Under." (Speaking with a small group afterwards, Bloys also noted that talks are ongoing with the Big Little Lies author about a potential follow-up — and that any Game of Thrones spinoff wouldn't come for at least a year after the original series ends.)

Stand-Up Specials Have Gotten Too Expensive
Stewart's upcoming stand-up special has a unique place in the HBO ecosystem. The cable network, once flush with live comedy, has pulled back dramatically. And Bloys explained why. "As a category, stand-up specials account for less than 1 percent of usage on [HBO] Go and Now," he said, noting the current Netflix spending spree on comedy specials is akin to the push Comedy Central made at the turn of the century. "It's hard for me to pay exorbitant prices. When prices come down, or when it makes sense again, it's relatively easy to get back in. We'll wait it out."

That Deadwood Movie Still Isn't Dead
There's always one nerdy request about reviving a long-dead show. On Wednesday, it was Deadwood. But, unlike previous visits with TV critics, Bloys actually came with news. "I read the script," he said. "The one thing I was concerned about was that the script would stand on its own. David [Milch] totally delivered on that. It's a terrific script. If we can do a budget that makes sense for us, find a director and get the cast together, we're inclined to do it."

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