Veteran HBO PR Chief Nancy Lesser Leaving Amid WarnerMedia Realignment

Nancy Lesser Corporate Photo-Publicity - H 2019

It's the end of an era at HBO.

Nancy Lesser, the beloved head of communications who has been with the premium cable network for 35 years, is leaving amid PR realignment at parent company WarnerMedia. Lesser announced her departure in a heartfelt memo to staff Wednesday. (Read her note, in full, below.)

Lesser — who was among the HBO execs who were singled out by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss during their Emmy speech for best drama — is expected to continue her impressive career elsewhere once she wraps her time at the cabler. She will remain at HBO through the transition as its PR team will now be centralized under WarnerMedia. 

"HBO has been a truly wonderful home for me for the last 35 years," Lesser said in a statement. "I have had the distinct privilege of overseeing the most creative, dedicated and smartest communications team in television. Additionally, I have been extremely fortunate to be involved with some of the most groundbreaking and relevant programming and to have worked alongside the exceptional talent who created and executed these memorable shows. As I move on from HBO, I will be cheering the ongoing successes of this remarkable company as it continues to lead the industry as the gold standard."  

Communications for the premium cable network as well as WarnerMedia's forthcoming streaming service, HBO Max, will be centralized under Kevin Brockman, who joined WarnerMedia in May after a 22-year run at Disney. Brockman reports to Bob Greenblatt, who boarded WarnerMedia in March as entertainment chairman — overseeing the company's entertainment brands including HBO. (Brockman departed Disney after the conglomerate's $71.3 billion Fox acquisition.)

Lesser's departure had almost been a foregone conclusion after Greenblatt was hired in to oversee the entertainment portfolio, with the former NBC boss opting to bring in his own PR in Brockman. Brockman has been working directly with the PR staff from TNT and TBS that streaming chief Kevin Reilly put together before being tapped to oversee HBO Max. Nearly cementing Lesser's ouster was WarnerMedia's decision in July to push out HBO's head of corporate communications Quentin Schaffer after his 39-year run with the cabler. Lesser reported directly to Schaffer.

Lesser was an integral part of HBO's media relations strategy, having a hand in that since 1984 when she joined the company as a senior publicist in New York. She was promoted a year later and added oversight of HBO's original programming, adding cable sibling Cinemax shortly afterward. Lesser moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and was promoted to vp media relations, West Coast. In 2000, she was elevated again in March 2008 and wraps her HBO career as executive vp media and talent relations.  

"Nancy was one of the first communication executives that I met when I moved to Los Angeles more than 26 years ago. She was a force of nature then, and she is a force of nature now. She has built an amazing team at HBO and I’m proud to now work alongside them as we move towards the future," Brockman said. "I’m sure that whatever adventures await Nancy in her next chapter, they will be as rich and rewarding as her time at HBO."

Schaffer, who left in August as executive vp corporate communications, previously reported to former HBO CEO Richard Plepler. Plepler, Schaffer and Lesser are the latest high-ranking executives to depart after AT&T acquired Time Warner (and rebranded the company as WarnerMedia). Others to exit the company include president and chief revenue officer Simon Sutton, global distribution topper Bernadette Aulestia and HBO miniseries and Cinemax president Kary Antholis.

Here is Lesser's memo to staff:

I have always believed that HBO is more than just a special place — it is, in fact, a place unlike any other. I know this because in 1984, as a newly hired senior publicist in New York, I came to the company with the intention of staying just two years to earn the corporate credit on my resume. Little did I know, or even expect, that those two years would surprisingly turn into 35; and become the most meaningful and satisfying time in my professional career. This journey has been an extraordinary one, where I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with the most impressively creative and dedicated people at every level in every department. The long-standing relationships that were built, the teamwork that is pervasive throughout the company, and the unique sense of family have always been an inspiration to me.

In 1994, I traded coasts and relocated to L.A. with the unwavering support of my exceptional leaders Richard Plepler and Quentin Schaffer (my boss of 28 years), who entrusted me to expand the media relations and talent relations department into one of unparalleled excellence. The camaraderie and bonds formed among this incredible group — east coast and west coast — are emblematic of the HBO spirit and one that I have been so fortunate and proud to be a part of for so many years.

During my tenure, I had the enviable opportunity to work with outstanding producers, writers, directors, and actors; and to oversee so many exceptional, significant and award-winning projects, such as Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, Angels in America, Big Little Lies, Game Change, Recount, The Normal Heart, Behind the Candelabra and Game of Thrones. These, and numerous others, had an enormous impact on the television landscape and were programs for which I was so grateful to have been involved.

As I now move from HBO to my new chapter, the deep-seeded relationships and richly-valued experiences will continue to always be a vital part of my world.

As my dear friend Jerry Weintraub so wisely advised … “This much I knew. As soon as you feel comfortable, that’s when it’s time to start over.”