Chris Albrecht: 'HBO Has Lost Its Shrug'

Starz's annual programming budget is less than $115 million, CEO says.

Could Starz be the next HBO?

Starz's Chris Albrecht, who previously served as chairman and CEO of HBO, seems to think so.

"HBO has lost its shrug," he said in a new interview with GQ, who defines the "shrug" as a "who-knows-if-this-is-gonna-fly-but-let's-go-for-it-bravado that was the norm when he was there."

With racy fare like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its upcoming prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena ("There Are No Rules in This House" and "How Far Will They Go?" are two possible slogans being bandied about), Starz is in a unique place. How far should it go to compete with other premium channels like Showtime and HBO?

Albrecht, who is known to be a bold risk-taker, often told writers during his tenure at HBO to create characters that were more complicated than the norm. "[Albrecht] said, 'I don't care if the characters are likable as long as they're interesting.' In one sentence, he threw out all the rules in episodic television," Oz creator Tom Fontana reminisced to GQ.

Whether Albrecht's unconventional approach will work at Starz still remains to be seen, though he is not afforded the same luxury than at HBO. According to Albrecht, his annual programming budget at Starz is less than the $115 million his previous employer spent to make Band of Brothers.

"We had a different way of solving [story, visual] problems at HBO: Spend money!," Albrecht said during a "finessing" session for upcoming series Camelot.

Albrecht's vision for Starz is to steer away from the naughty. That space is overpopulated, he says. Albrecht also believes that the network is more about broadly entertaining.