HBO trying life after 'Sopranos'

'Little Britain' offshoot joining stalwarts on sked

Don't expect big changes from HBO post-Chris Albrecht, his replacements pledged Thursday at the network's summer Tele-vision Critics Assn. presentation.

Co-president Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo, president of the programming group and West Coast operations, are staying the course set by Albrecht, the former chief who was ousted in May.

"I consider Chris a friend, and it's been a very difficult transition with him not being with the company," Lombardo said. "The genius of Chris was he assembled an unbelievable group of programmers who all remain. It feels like we are just continuing to do the work we have been doing."

But Plepler acknowledged that HBO isn't likely to outdo "The Sopranos."

"The issue with 'The Sopranos' is, it's such a transcendent thing, an iconic piece of work, (that) everyone asks the question, 'What's next?' " he said. "Truthfully, nothing will ever top 'The Sopranos.' "

Still, HBO is putting its best foot forward on the series front. The network said it has teamed with "American Idol" creator/executive producer Simon Fuller for an American version of the hit BBC comedy "Little Britain."

Meanwhile, the much anticipated 10-episode sixth season of Larry David's comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will launch Sept. 9 and run in the Sunday 10 p.m. slot. During the "Curb" TCA session, David indicated that he hasn't decided whether the series will continue beyond the coming season and that the season finale leaves that door open.

Preceding the "Curb" season premiere is the debut of HBO's new racy drama "Tell Me You Love Me," which will run in the signature 9-10 p.m. period.

Much of the discussion in the session devoted to "Love Me" centered on its graphic sex scenes, which HBO entertainment president Carolyn Strauss defended as key to a series that strives to capture the reality of relationships.

"I know the sex is getting enormous amounts of attention, but you really can't tell the story of intimacy without sex as an important part of your took kit," she said. "If you're not doing that honestly, you're not telling the story."

Just in time for the 2008 presidential elections, HBO has renewed "Real Time With Bill Maher" for a sixth season. The show returns for the second half of its fifth season Aug. 24; Season 6 is slated to kick off in 2008.

One deviation from the Albrecht playbook that spurred questions from TCA critics: The execs waffled on plans set by their predecessor to produce a pair of movies that would wrap up the story line of the canceled series "Deadwood." Plepler put the odds for greenlighting a film at "50-50," citing casts' commitments to other projects and the willingness of the series' creator, David Milch, to pursue it.

"If David is game for this and we can figure it out, we'll figure it out," Lombardo said.

Another factor that will play a part in resuming production in "Deadwood" will be the fate of Milch's new series, "John From Cincinnati," which Plepler spoke supportively of but stopped short of making renewal announcement.

"The show is really finding an audience, and the audience is staying consistent," he said. "I think it's important to see where it goes, where David takes us, and we'll make that decision at the end of the season."

As for other returning favorites, Plepler noted that "The Wire" will come back for its final season in first-quarter 2008.

Ricky Gervais' comedy "Extras" will end its run with a one-hour special, written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, that will be filmed in August. Gervais also is in discussions with the network for a one-hour stand-up special that could air next year.

Plepler and Lombardo also touched on the upcoming big-screen treatment for "Sex and the City," which is being financed and distributed by New Line Cinema. But when the subject turned to a "Sopranos" movie, Lombardo made it clear that no such plans are in the works. "Nobody has had any conversations with (creator) David (Chase) about feature films (regarding 'Sopranos')," she said.

"I don't think David has had a conversation with himself about it," Plepler joked.

The execs also discussed at length reactions to the "Sopranos" finale, particular the debate over its final blacked-out moment. Asked about its meaning, Plepler spoke eloquently of how to interpret those final seconds, but Lombardo begged off.

"I don't know, my TV went out," he joked.

James Gandolfini also was on hand for TCA but in a different capacity, as host and executive producer of the documentary "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq." Although he made sure that the focus was kept on the injured soldiers featured on the program, he offered his motivation for participating in the program.

"I was playing this tough guy on TV and I wanted to meet a few real ones," he said.

HBO has handed out a six-episode order to "Britain" stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams. In the original series, the two play a variety of recurring characters in sketches that spoof contemporary life in the U.K.

"The new series will be a sketch show set in contemporary America," Walliams said. "We are taking some existing characters and writing new material for them, as well as introducing new characters and ideas."

The HBO series, which will be filmed in the fall for a 2008 debut, will be produced by HBO Entertainment in association with 19 Entertainment, MBST and Little Britain. Fuller is executive producing with Larry Brezner, David Steinberg, Lucas and Walliams.

On the longform front, HBO Films has added another screen adaptation of a small British play, Antony Sher's one-man show "Primo."

Meanwhile, "The Pacific," the long-gestating World War II miniseries set in the Pacific theater, likely will bow in third-quarter 2009.
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