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The shakeup continues at HBO.
Longtime programming president Michael Lombardo is exiting the premium cable network, sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter. The news, about which HBO is declining to comment, comes 33 years into Lombardo’s tenure at HBO, and nine into his run as programming president. It also comes some three and a half months after his underling, executive vp drama development Michael Ellenberg, was pushed out in the first sign that change was afoot at HBO.
Former comedy head Casey Bloys was upped at that time to president of series, late night and specials, and multiple insiders suspect he will now ascend to Lombardo’s perch. Though Bloys is no doubt green for a role of such range and significance, he, too, has a history with the company (he joined in 2004) and is well liked internally. Two sources suggest a formal announcement is likely to come early next week, and Lombardo is expected to secure a producing deal at the network as former HBO execs Sue Naegle and Carolyn Strauss did before him.
Though HBO has regained some momentum in recent months — with the return of commercial powerhouse and 2015 Emmy winner Game of Thrones and critical darlings Veep and Silicon Valley — the network hasn’t been able to fully dig itself out of a creative rough patch (chronicled in a February story in The Hollywood Reporter.) And while several producers and HBO talent are privately expressing both shock and disappointment at Friday’s news, Lombardo’s own future at the network had been the subject of industry speculation even before the Ellenberg move was made.
The network’s creative stumbles have been well documented. Earlier this year, Vinyl became the latest hugely high-profile (and wildly 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 who had worked on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, is now out and new producers will look to relaunch the series.
Meanwhile, the 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.
As for returning dramas, the upcoming third season of critically praised The Leftovers will be its last and there is said to be no movement on a possible third season of True Detective, although HBO signed creator Nic Pizzolatto to an overall deal in November 2015 despite heavy criticism about the direction of season two. Lombardo had been intimately involved in the network’s other upcoming projects, including the late June launch of Bill Simmons’ late-night show as well as longer-lead projects from Issa Rae and Sarah Jessica Parker.
When Lombardo was upped to programming chief in 2007, shortly after Chris Albrecht’s ouster, few believed a former business affairs executive (coupled with a former P.R. head, Richard Plepler, now CEO) 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 cover story. In time, however, Lombardo, a well-liked executive with strong relationships in Hollywood, proved many wrong. Early bets on series including True Blood and Thrones paid off, as did other less commercial ones on Girls, Silicon Valley and Veep. Just last fall, it mopped up at the Emmys, with 43 wins for projects ranging from Olive Kitteridge to Veep to Thrones. The network also 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 top-tier 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, brilliant marketing and an enviable talent-first mentality, it’s also criticized for the lengthy periods that projects can spend in development (at one point last year, HBO had more than 100 projects in various stages of development) and the priority that’s often given to A-list talent (think Scorsese).
The news was first reported by Variety.