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Earlier this year, a fight broke out at HBO over a punctuation mark. Should a Veep poster riffing on President Obama’s famous “Hope” tagline read “Maybe?” or “Maybe!”?
The network preferred a question mark, but showrunner David Mandel wanted the exclamation point. Weeks later, after hearing Mandel plead his case, then-comedy chief Casey Bloys called him about another issue. “At one point in that conversation, he stops and goes, ‘By the way, you were right about the exclamation point,’ ” recalls Mandel. “To have an executive who in your lifetime says to you, ‘You were right’ about something, I’d elect him president of the United States, never mind president of HBO programming.”
Bloys wouldn’t need Mandel’s vote. On May 23, the 12-year network veteran was appointed to that position, replacing HBO’s longtime programming head Michael Lombardo. In the new structure, HBO’s films, miniseries, documentaries, sports and Cinemax programming will fall under Bloys, 44, who will now report to CEO Richard Plepler. He will not be responsible for marketing, research or production, the noncreative divisions that Lombardo suggested had distracted him during his tenure. (Both Bloys and Plepler declined comment.)
It’s hard to find producers or agents who have disparaging words to say about the Northwestern alum, who has garnered vast development experience during his stint at HBO and, before that, at Wass-Stein Productions (ABC’s Less Than Perfect). The knock, if you can call it one, is that the married father of two (his husband is L.A. First Amendment lawyer Alonzo Wickers) is green for a role of this size and scale. “It’s a massive job,” says one agency partner, echoing the refrain of a dozen or so who only would speak on the condition of anonymity. As many noted, Bloys‘ domain included only comedy (series, specials and late night) until January, when he added drama following executive vp Michael Ellenberg’s ouster. In that half-hour space, however, Bloys has fared well, shepherding current Emmy champ Veep, Silicon Valley, Girls and Ballers.
Silicon Valley co-showrunner Alec Berg suggests those outside the comedy world have no reason to panic. “I have to assume his methodology in comedy will apply to drama, which is that he’s not a guy who comes in and tries to tell you how it is,” says Berg, stressing how deferential and thoughtful Bloys can be. Mandel echoes that sentiment: “It’s about intelligence, and I believe the same sort of thinking and aiming before firing that Casey does will continue in the drama world, and they’ll come to appreciate his insights in the way that Lord knows we have.”
That’s not to say it’ll be a smooth road. HBO remains a top destination, with the ability to land A-list talent and mop up awards (43 at the 2015 Emmys), to say nothing of its contribution of 27 percent of Time Warner’s 2015 operating income. But it now competes with streamers Netflix, Amazon and Hulu for prestige projects, as well as traditional rivals Showtime, AMC and FX. And in recent months, the network has been marred by creative misfires. In February, Martin Scorsese’s rock drama Vinyl stumbled out of the gate, and showrunner Terence Winter has been replaced by Scott Z. Burns and Max Borenstein. “Do I wish Vinyl was welcomed in a bigger way? Yes. I mean, come on,” Lombardo told THR on May 23.
Meanwhile, the network was forced to delay or outright kill a collection of other high-profile projects, including two shows from David Fincher, a limited series from Steve McQueen, a Lewis & Clark mini and big-budget sci-fi drama Westworld, in which Bloys has become heavily involved trying to get it back on track. Since his January promotion, the Pennsylvania native also is said to have taken a hard look at Ellenberg’s bloated drama pipeline and begun passing on projects that the network had no intention or ability to make.
While juggernaut Game of Thrones and the final season of Damon Lindelof’s Peabody-winning drama The Leftovers shouldn’t require too much of Bloys‘ time, other decisions, including the fate of True Detective, now fall to him. (HBO sources suggest a new project from creator Nic Pizzolatto is more likely.) Bloys already is heavily involved in forthcoming comedies from Sarah Jessica Parker (Divorce), Issa Rae (Insecure) and Danny McBride (Vice Principals), with Rae suggesting Bloys is “a visionary [who was] instrumental in giving [her] show the TLC it needed to become everything [she] imagined and better” and McBride adding: “He’s consistently been one of the most insightful and supportive executives around. He also knows black magic and I believe kung fu.”
On the drama side, Bloys has since stepped up on David Simon’s porn drama The Deuce as well as Amy Adams’ Sharp Objects. In assessing his tastes, insiders suggest he’s open to younger voices and worlds and is said to covet smart, sophisticated dramas with “pop.”
Lombardo, for his part, will segue to a producer with the network, a role he says he intends to honor. “Do I think I’m going to be driving all over the Valley and West L.A. pitching a script? That’s not my fantasy right now,” he told THR. “I think ‘producer’ is used euphemistically for a creative entrepreneurial role. Richard has encouraged me to think big, and I’m going to do that.” Lombardo is expected to remain involved in a few significant projects, including Bill Simmons’ talk show (launching June 22) and shortform videos and other entries from Jon Stewart.
In a joint statement, Girls co-creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner praise Lombardo, who “changed [their] lives,” and Bloys, whom they call “brilliant, committed, loyal, hilarious and a fierce advocate for artists.” True to form, the duo adds: “We are sorry we sent Casey so many sexual/prank emails. We didn’t know he’d become our full-on boss. They were out of love.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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