HBO taps Lombardo as top creative exec

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The leadership picture is slowly coming into focus at HBO in the wake of chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht's departure last month. Sources say Albrecht's longtime right-hand man at the network, Michael Lombardo, likely will be elevated to a new post overseeing all West Coast operations.

HBO declined comment.

The move effectively would position Lombardo, currently executive vp business affairs, production and programming operations, as the top exec on the creative side, overseeing current programming chiefs including HBO Films president Colin Callender and entertainment president Carolyn Strauss. Both of those execs were considered strong possibilities to fill the power vacuum left by Albrecht, who was ousted May 9 shortly after a highly publicized altercation with a girlfriend outside a Las Vegas casino.

The elevation of Lombardo, a 24-year HBO veteran, fits with expectations that Time Warner will divvy up Albrecht's duties among several key players and structure management along similar lines in place when current Time Warner president and COO Jeff Bewkes ran the network.

Lombardo is not expected to be considered for the CEO position, which insiders are betting will go to one or more of a quartet of HBO vets including COO Bill Nelson, currently interim CEO; executive vp Richard Plepler; Harold Akselrad, general counsel and executive vp legal, business affairs and film programing; and Eric Kessler, president of sales, marketing and business development.

In Lombardo, HBO would be appointing a West Coast point man who might have a lower profile than some of the other execs in the company's stable but is an important behind-the-scenes player nonetheless. He has had a seat at the table -- usually next to Albrecht's -- at every significant production deal, contract negotiation and programming decision HBO has been involved with over the past decade.

Lombardo joined HBO as an associate counsel in 1983 after three years at law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton. In 1986, he switched focus and location, joining business affairs and transferring to HBO's Los Angeles office, where he has remained.

It is unclear what effect the elevation of Lombardo will have on other HBO executives who will have to report to him, particularly Callender, who had been considered a leading candidate to move up post-Albrecht.

Besides Callender and Strauss, Lombardo also would count among his direct reports Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, and Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports.

With multiple roles to be filled, the possibility remains that HBO will add an outsider in another key post. Newly unemployed NBC president of entertainment Kevin Reilly has been mentioned as a potential recruit.
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