HBO Chief On 'Game of Thrones'' Violence, 'True Detective's' Quality and 'Curb's' Future

Programming president Michael Lombardo also addressed the competition — and the fate of Jon Snow.
Mike Lombardo

Hot off of a record 126 Emmy nominations, HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo took the Television Critics Association summer press tour stage Thursday to a deluge of questions.

And though he urged his Beverly Hilton audience to "be nice" -— this was his first panel without New York-based CEO Richard Plepler by his side, after all — he was game to field every one that came his way. Among them: What does he think about the current season of True Detective, which has been the subject of heavy criticism in recent weeks? Is Larry David any closer to reviving his beloved comedy creation, Curb Your Enthusiasm? (A question that gets asked semi-annually.) And then (and only partially in jest), is Game of Thrones favorite Jon Snow really dead?

In addition to Lombardo's thoughts on Thrones’ future (hint: eight seasons and out is the current subject-to-change plan) and his defense of True Detective and its creator Nic Pizzolatto, here are the highlights from his half hour or so on stage:

About All That Game of Thrones Violence

Lombardo’s heard — and read — all of your complaints about the degree of violence in his top-rated drama, but he fully supports showrunner David Benioff and Dan Weiss' oft-bloody approach to storytelling. "This show has had violence as part of one of its many threads from the first episode," he said, citing the gruesome fate of a 7-year-old in the series’ pilot. He continued: "I can’t speak to any single person’s particular taste … I think the show is phenomenal. It hit 20 million viewers this year … And I’ll be honest you with you, I think there are no two showrunners who are more careful about not overstepping what they think the line is — and everyone has their own line, I understand — but doing things that are critical for the storytelling and I support them fully artistically." As for Snow’s fate, the network chief concluded, with a wide grin: "In everything I’ve seen, heard or read, Jon Snow is indeed dead."

The Return of Larry David — and David Chase

The HBO chief predicted that both of the network’s famed voices will be back on the network’s schedule during his tenure — it's the "when" that gets more complicated. Lombardo revealed that when he saw David prior to his Fish in the Dark run on Broadway, he pointed to a notebook and told Lombardo that it was the next season of Curb. Lombardo insists he didn’t so much as take a peak, nor has he spoken to David since, but he — like much of the Hilton ballroom — is hopeful that they'll be more Curb. "I don’t think it’s out of [Larry’s] system," he said, before adding: "I think he wants to have something to say." As for Chase’s next act for HBO, which will center on the formation of the Hollywood film industry, Lombardo stressed that the long-in-the-works project is still very much alive. In fact, his team recently saw two hours of "phenomenal" material, and Chase remains busy writing. As for the delay, Lombardo noted: "I think it’s really challenging to come back to television after having a show like The Sopranos, a show that really hits on all levels like that."

Sorry Haters, Lombardo Finds True Detective "Satisfying"

Sure, Lombardo has read the gripes about Pizzolatto's once-beloved limited series, but he assured the room that he's happy with what he's seen — and, it seems, so are HBO's subscribers, 12 million of whom are tuning in weekly. "Nic Pizzolatto is one of the best writers working in television and motion pictures today," he said of his divisive creator and showrunner, before teasing that he enjoyed the series' forthcoming finale. "I think he takes a big swing. I think the show ends with as satisfying an end as any show I've seen." While he has no news to report with regard to a third installment, he added that that decision is up to Pizzolatto. 

Enough With the Netflix Questions ...

It’s clear Lombardo is as tired of all of the Netflix questions as we are. When asked how his network has been impacted by the streaming service’s aggressive programming push, he used it as an opportunity to reiterate two points. The first is that his team tries "so hard not to program defensively"; the second: that the competition extends beyond Netflix, to FX, to Showtime, to AMC. He acknowledged that while the industry was no doubt undergoing a paradigm shift – viewers are rethinking how and when they watch; networks are rethinking the length and format of what they air — quality will continue to be paramount. 

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