9:47am PT by Lacey Rose
HBO Programming Chief on AT&T: "No One Is Asking Us to Sacrifice Quality for Volume"
Casey Bloys kicked off the TV industry’s semi-annual press tour with a turn in the hot seat Wednesday.
HBO’s president of programming found himself fielding questions about a Deadwood movie (yes, it’s finally happening), Confederate (no change in the status there) and the critical backlash to Westworld (it’s a “unique” show and "that's what we look for"). But no subject garnered as much attention from members of the Television Critics Association as a recent, much covered report by The New York Times in which his boss’s boss, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, suggested in a town hall meeting with HBO staffers that the new ownership would be looking to broaden the network’s audience and change up its programming mix. The news landed poorly, with critics, fearful of HBO pivoting into Netflix’s volume business, begging AT&T to leave HBO alone.
Bloys used the TCA platform to clarify. “There are no plans to dilute the HBO brand in favor of volume of programming — no one has come to us to ask us to not do what we do, which is curate excellence,” he said, noting that the type of programming that HBO produces will not change. “What I heard in meeting with John is someone investing in programing which is music to our ears. One of our challenges in the past couple years working for Time Warner is that it was a corporate entity preparing itself for sale instead of one investing."
To drive the point home, Bloys added to laughs: “No one is asking us to take pitches for a Love Boat reboot.”
Bloys’ comments came less than 24 hours after Stankey had used another platform, AT&T’s second-quarter earnings call, to address the swirl of critical press. Although Stankey gave the subject considerably less airtime, he, too, noted that the reports had not “effectively characterized what we are about.” Although he failed to elaborate, he reiterated his plan to invest in HBO’s output to grow its subscriber base and combat churn. “[HBO has] not been in a position to say yes ... because of constraints on certain resources," he said. "And we’re attempting to open up those constraints on high-quality top projects.”
Like Stankey, Bloys offered no specifics on the size and scale of the planned budgetary or output increase. Instead, he noted that he and his boss, HBO CEO Richard Plepler, still need to figure out how they intend to do more without losing the hands-on approach or personal touch for which their brand is known. “We may need more staff but I don’t want to change our culture in any way,” Bloys added. “I don’t want it to feel like a factory.”
At various points during his half-hour before the press, the TV executive found himself back in familiar territory, fielding questions about his current and forthcoming programming slate. He noted that he expects another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm to come "soon," though precisely when will depend entirely on creator-star Larry David, and that season three of True Detective will likely air early next year. As for the quick demise of Alan Ball's Here and Now, Bloys simply said: "Sometimes a show finds itself and sometimes it doesn't." He offered slightly more on the subject of Westworld, addressing criticism about the futuristic drama's sophomore run being too convoluted. "What I love about Westworld is that the people who love it, love it," he said of the Emmy-drenched series. "And even people who dislike it talk about why they dislike it. For a show to arouse that kind of feeling, that's what we want."
Bloys was considerably more careful with his word choice when asked about HBO's decision to move forward with a second season of The Deuce in light of sexual misconduct allegations against its star James Franco. After pointing to the scrapping of deals with Russell Simmons and Mark Halperin as examples of HBO's willingness to take action after its internal #MeToo investigations, he explained that his team didn't feel the same action was necessary with Franco. Per Bloys, they talked to the producers and stars, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, and, ultimately, "we all felt comfortable moving forward with a second season."
The programming chief ended his turn before the press on a particularly classy note, congratulating his competitors at Netflix for usurping HBO's 17-year title as the most-Emmy-nominated network. After suggesting that he wasn’t surprised by the passing of the baton given the streamer’s volume of programming, Bloys said: “I want to congratulate Netflix, Ted [Sarandos] and Cindy [Holland]. We were proud of having the most nominations for as long as we did, and it's a great honor and they earned it and they should be proud of it.”