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The new regime at HBO was announced Tuesday by parent company Time Warner Inc., which appointed Bill Nelson chairman and CEO.
Nelson, who last month was named interim CEO after the departure of Chris Albrecht, will lead a restructured management team. HBO vets Harold Akselrad, Eric Kessler and Richard Plepler were elevated to the newly created positions of HBO co-presidents.
Time Warner president and COO Jeff Bewkes said that HBO was reverting to a management style not unlike when he ran the network during the 1990s, when the CEO was not focused on creative aspects.
“HBO has sometimes had a CEO from programming and sometimes someone like me that wasn’t,” he said. “Bill is a natural leader that everyone here trusts.”
As expected, HBO also announced the promotion of Michael Lombardo to president of the programming group and West Coast operations (HR 6/4). He reports to Plepler, who will be the top exec on the programming side.
The elevation of Nelson, who has been COO at HBO since 2000, was no surprise to insiders, who all along expected the job to remain internal. There was some speculation that a second exec would join him as a joint CEO.
Nelson’s previous duties will be redistributed among the other three executives. Akselrad will manage legal and business affairs, film acquisition and HBO’s technology groups as well as continue to serve as HBO’s general counsel. Lombardo also will report to Akselrad on legal and business affairs issues.
Kessler will oversee the marketing and worldwide distribution of HBO networks and content. He adds international oversight to his portfolio.
In addition to programming, Plepler will continue to oversee corporate communications. He has had a hand in HBO’s creative direction as a long-standing member of the company’s program-planning committee.
Nelson has been at HBO since 1984. He has concentrated on HBO’s financial strategy for much of that time in various posts. Akselrad and Kessler also have more than 20 years logged at HBO, while Plepler has been at HBO since 1992.
David Milch, executive producer and creator of the upcoming HBO series “John From Cincinnati,” is looking forward to collaborating on the programming side with Plepler and Lombardo.
“Richard has been an invaluable friend and counselor ever since I came to HBO,” Milch said. “He understands the cultural dynamics (and) the ways those intersect with corporate priorities and creative concerns. That’s a rare combination.”
Of Lombardo, Milch added, “Michael Lombardo is unfailingly supportive and imaginative in many ways.”
Reporting to Lombardo are the presidents of HBO’s programming units: Colin Callender for film, Carolyn Strauss for series, Sheila Nevins for documentaries and family fare and Ross Greenburg for sports.
Lombardo is not known as a creative exec, but Bewkes believes he will be crucial to maintaining the quality he has come to expect from HBO’s programming chiefs.
“There’s always been somebody in Los Angeles who was kind of (an) on-site coordinator,” he said. “We don’t need Carolyn or Colin spending their time doing management tasks. Mike is good at doing that, and we want them to have the freedom to do what they do.”
Asked whether Time Warner considered hiring new blood to help run HBO, Bewkes said that while outside options were considered, they didn’t measure up to what already was in house.
“We think the people that we’ve got are better, more capable and more experienced and knowledgeable to take HBO from where it is,” Bewkes said. “HBO is on a winning streak, and we want to keep it going. These are the people who built it.”
Said Nelson: “Colin, Ross, Sheila and Carolyn are simply the best creative minds in the business and have consistently produced a body of extraordinary work. I’m confident these talented programmers, working in collaboration with Richard and Mike, will continue to deliver the greatest programming on television.”
Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.
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