Netflix's Huge Showrunner Deals Don't "Make Sense" for HBO

HBO programming president Casey Bloys talks with THR about the push to increase volume and how that might impact his approach to overall deals and development.
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HBO programming president Casey Bloys has no intention of rushing plans to increase volume at the premium cable network under new corporate parent AT&T.

The executive, who faced the press Wednesday morning to open the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in Beverly Hills, reiterated that he sees WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey's comments to increase output as a long overdue and welcome change that he and HBO CEO Richard Plepler have wanted to do for quite some time.

That said, Bloys is still not ready to discuss just how much more content HBO plans to unspool or a timeline for such. Also unclear is how much the channel's programming budget will increase from its reported $2 billion. "It's more than what we're doing now and probably less than what Netflix or other streaming places are doing," Bloys told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

The mandate for more is sweeping across the industry with a wave of massive mergers, such as Disney's $52.4 billion deal to buy Fox assets, including its film and TV studios as multiple outlets look to bulk up to compete with streamers Netflix (and its $8 billion budget), Amazon ($4.5 billion), Hulu ($2.5 billion) and new arrivals including Apple ($1 billion) as well as YouTube and Facebook, among others.

Still, Bloys said HBO will continue to do what it does best: curate high-quality premium programming with a hands-on approach that puts creators first as the cabler continues to draw top talent (Jennifer Garner's TV return in Camping, Meryl Streep in season two of Big Little Lies and Joss Whedon's TV return) and prepares for a stacked 2019 that will feature the final seasons of Game of Thrones and Veep, the third season of True Detective, the sophomore run of Big Little Lies and more. Below, Bloys opens up about his push to grow HBO, his strategy for overall deals and how — or if — its development process will change.

When you look at volume and increasing output, Netflix has a budget of $8 billion. HBO's hovers around $2 billion. What does your increased budget look like as you plot to do more under AT&T?

It's not something I know and it's not something I can talk about. We are having ongoing conversations about the right level of programming for us. Richard has been very vocal, even when I started, about the need to do more. We both believe we need to do more, pre-AT&T, post-AT&T. So, when John came in talking about investment, it really was music to our ears because this is the first time anybody has said "Let's invest" as opposed to "Hey, HBO, you owe Time Warner X-hundred millions of dollars." What we need to figure out is what is the level of programming where we can still have the personal touch, the relationship with showrunners where they feel like they're being cared for and that their show matters to us and they get all the resources of the company focused on them. [In terms of budget], it's more than what we're doing now and probably less than what Netflix or other streaming places are doing. We're not looking to be in the volume business, but I think we can do more quality product without sacrificing our excellent curation.

In terms of the increase in scripted originals, what kind of numbers are you considering? Where is the line when you feel you can't have that personal relationship with creators?

I think we currently have 17 or 18 scripted shows. But I don't know what the right number is. We have to figure out what that number is. If we feel like things are slipping by without our attention or a showrunner or creator is not feeling like they're getting the correct amount of attention … it's going to be a bit of finding the right level for us.

In the competition for high-end projects, there are bidding wars almost daily. When you consider the landscape, are you looking to compete for those projects and do straight-to-series orders or are you committed to development with pilots?

It will be a combination. Even this year, we've done both straight to series and pilots. As someone who has worked in development for 20 years, I appreciate the pilot process because everybody going into a pilot thinks it may be one thing and then we all learn in the process what works and what doesn't. You sometimes lose that in the straight-to-series model. However, Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies were straight to series, so it can work. And some pilots don't work and some do. We do it all different ways. There's no one way to do it. The important thing is getting into business with people you believe in and trust.

Do you have a timeline for what this volume increase looks like?

It's something that Richard has been talking about since before AT&T bought us. This is not news that we want to do more. It's not something that we're starting from a standing start.

Netflix has made a big push for ownership with overall deals. Showtime, which doesn't ink a lot of overalls, just signed Lena Waithe. What's HBO's overall strategy?

We have a lot of overall deals connected to shows: We now have one with Lena Dunham and another with Jenni Konner, Dan [Weiss] and David Benioff [from Game of Thrones], David Simon. Big deals like Ryan Murphy or Shonda Rhimes, even in a world where we're doing more, I still don't see that kind of deal making sense for us because that kind of volume is not what we're looking for. That's not going to change. Most of the overall deals will be connected to shows or people we've had long-terms deals with — like Tom Hanks. If we're doing more shows, there will likely be more overalls as a function of doing more shows.

In terms of the Game of Thrones offshoots, what's the status on the remaining four?

All I am going to say is that we are shooting the one pilot. And that's the status. The other four are in various stages.

Are any of them not moving forward?

We're making a pilot in the first quarter of 2019.

Any sense of a timeline for when Westworld season three will return? Creators-showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan took a year off to avoid production shutdowns that plagued season one.

Lisa and Jonah are off talking amongst themselves about what they want season three to be about, where they want it to take place and how they want to approach it. I don't have a sense of the schedule and when it will be on air or when they're going to start production. They are taking their time to talk about their creative approach to season three. So I don't have any details yet.

Possible it could take another year off?

It's too early to say at this point. When they feel not rushed and ready to go [is when it will come back].