HBO frowns on comedy fests


Bob Crestani is out as CEO of HBO's comedy festival operation, a likely prelude to the network exiting the comedy festival circuit.

Crestani will depart at the end of next week's third annual edition of the Comedy Festival in Las Vegas, co-organized by AEG Live, which is a 50-50 partner with HBO in the event. His exit, announced Tuesday, comes as HBO has pretty much put on ice its February/March festival, previously held in Aspen.

TBS, a former TCF title sponsor, is expected to take over the rights to the Vegas festival as of 2008 and build it into its own programming and marketing platform.

HBO officials issued a statement highlighting that they are looking forward to next week's festival.

"At the conclusion of this year's festival, as they have the past two years, the partners will review the highlights, and assess the future direction of the Comedy Festival," the statement read.

Added TBS in a separate statement: "We are in talks with all parties and very interested in keeping and growing this great festival. Hopefully, we will have something to announce in the very near future."

HBO has had a big comedy festival presence for more than a decade. However, since the firing of Chris Albrecht from the top HBO job in May, industry talk has suggested the network would drop its festival activities.

Albrecht had been known as a fervent supporter of the comedy industry outings, which HBO started with one event focused on discovering new talent in Aspen. A few years ago, it added the Vegas event that is focused on big-name acts that were supposed to bring in money to support the Aspen fest. The festival operation did not turn a profit.

Crestani, a former agent, tried to broaden the festivals and their attendees via digital comedy showcases and the addition of new sponsors. But he also created strong opposition with his pitch for a move from Aspen to Santa Barbara.

With Albrecht gone and the new leadership at HBO focusing on the network's core businesses, HBO has been looking to shed non-core and unprofitable operations.

"It is a lot of work with little payoff for them," said one comedy source. "The festivals are fun, but there is no immediate payoff for anyone anymore. The buyers and the agents/managers are all tightening their belts." Plus, no one ever walks away with sitcom deals now, as used to happen in the event's early days.

In May, HBO said that it would leave Aspen, where its U.S. Comedy Arts Festival had made its home for 13 years. The company cited weather and the high costs of the ski resort as key reasons for the departure.

The full-time HBO comedy festival staff is composed of 15 people, with most being understood to have contracts running through June. Executive producer Pat Tourk Lee and Nancy Kurshner are among the execs given a good chance to stay with the company.

It was unclear how much TBS would pay HBO to take over its 50% stake in TCF given the operation has few real assets.