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HBO has named its new leader.
Casey Bloys will assume the top creative slot as president of programming at the premium network, following Friday’s news that veteran Michael Lombardo would exit. The shake-up, which left many of HBO’s top producers blindsided, comes during a whirlwind year for the former comedy executive, who was bumped up to president of series, late night and specials following the ouster of drama head Michael Ellenberg in late January.
As part of the move, Lombardo — who spent 33 years with the company, nine of them in the top programming role — will segue to a producer, with what insiders say is a significant deal at HBO. In an interview shortly after the news broke, Lombardo acknowledged that the term “producer” would be loosely defined, noting that he’s looking to do something entrepreneurial while remaining close to the creative and his long-time network home. “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 said. “I think ‘producer’ is used euphemistically for a creative entrepreneurial role. [HBO CEO] Richard [Plepler] has encouraged me to think big, and I’m going to do that.”
In announcing the transition plan, Plepler praised the outgoing executive, with whom he’s long been close. “It goes without saying that Mike’s contributions over these many years, most especially in the last nine as president of programming, have been nothing short of extraordinary,” he said in a statement. “I believe it’s fair to say that his brilliant work will stand the test of time and his tenure will be recognized as second to none.”
Bloys is no doubt green for a role of this size and scale, as his domain included merely comedy until roughly four months ago. It should be noted, though, that in that space, the well-liked executive fared well, having shepherded such series as Silicon Valley, Girls and Veep as well as newer entry Ballers, a more recent attempt to broaden the network’s comedy brand. And unlike Lombardo, who came up through business affairs, Bloys put in his time in the development trenches. (He joined the HBO Independent Productions unit in 2004, before moving to the programming side two years later.)
“[Casey] has the deepest respect and admiration of our colleagues inside the company as well as throughout the creative community,” said Plepler, to whom he will now report. In the new position, Bloys will oversee all of HBO and Cinemax’s programming initiatives including HBO Films, HBO Sports, HBO Documentaries & Family and HBO Entertainment. Department heads Len Amato (films), Kary Antholis (minis and Cinemax programming), Peter Nelson (sports) and Sheila Nevins (docs) will move under him.
Looking ahead, the father of two with attorney husband Alonzo Wickers has his work cut out for him. Though HBO remains a top-tier destination with the ability to land top talent and mop up awards (43 in total at the 2015 Emmys), the past year or so has been checkered with creative stumbles. In February, Vinyl became the latest high-profile (and pricey) project not to land. The drama, from Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, debuted to softer than expected numbers and mediocre reviews.
First-season showrunner Terence Winter, a longtime HBO collaborator, is now out and new producers Scott Z. Burns and Max Borenstein will look to relaunch the series. “Do I wish Vinyl was welcomed in a bigger way? Yes. I mean, come on,” said Lombardo, who added: “Do I think with the team in place it has the chance of blowing people’s minds? I do.”
Meanwhile, the premium network was forced to shut down or outright kill a collection of other significant projects, including big-budget sci-fi drama Westworld, which went on a production hiatus midway through its first season, as well as two shows from David Fincher, a limited series from Steve McQueen and another, Lewis & Clark, from producers Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks. Lombardo insists Westworld will air later this year, and expressed remorse about Fincher’s Utopia falling apart. “We just couldn’t figure out the budgets,” he explained. “It was personally painful because I believed in his vision, I like him enormously and I wanted to.”
As for returning dramas, the upcoming season of Damon Lindelof’s critically praised niche play The Leftovers will be its last, and there is said to be no movement on a possible third season of True Detective. (Despite heavy criticism surrounding season two, HBO signed creator Nic Pizzolatto to an overall deal in November.) Until news of his exit leaked, Lombardo had been intimately involved in many of the network’s upcoming projects, including the late June launch of Bill Simmons’ talk show as well as longer-lead efforts from David Simon (The Deuce), Sarah Jessica Parker (Divorce) and Issa Rae (Insecure).
When Lombardo was upped to programming chief in 2007, shortly after Chris Albrecht’s departure, few believed a former business affairs executive (coupled with Plepler, a former PR head) had the creative know-how to keep the Emmy-drenched network on track. “Everyone was saying, ‘It’s over,'” WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel recalled in a 2015 Hollywood Reporter cover story. In time, however, Lombardo proved the naysayers wrong. Early bets on series including True Blood and 2015 Emmy winner Game of Thrones paid off, as did other less commercial ones on Girls, Silicon Valley, Veep and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Additionally, the cabler remains the crown jewel of Time Warner, and has scored high marks for its over-the-top service HBO Now.
But running HBO is not the same task it was nearly a decade earlier. Once the only real game in town for premium projects, the network has been forced to compete with a growing swath of outlets, from pay cable (Showtime) to basic cable (AMC, FX) to streamers (Netflix, Amazon). And though HBO often is touted as a destination of choice for creatives, care of its lofty budgets, unrivaled marketing and an enviable talent-first mentality, it’s also criticized for the lengthy periods that projects can spend in development — HBO had more than 100 projects in various stages of development at one point last year, with multiple sources noting the network has been even slower to hand out greenlights this year — and the priority that’s often given to A-list talent like Vinyl’s Scorsese.
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