HBO Chiefs: Quality Trumps All
The architects behind HBO’s industry best 99 Emmy nominations made running a network sound fairly straightforward during their TCA session late Thursday—quality content dominates.
Asked about various show formats—self-contained series, minis, one-offs, traditional series— Richard Plepler, Chairman/CEO and Michael Lombardo, Pres, Programming said repeatedly quality writing and acting were the most important factors at the Box. Critics peppered the two with questions about the utility of a project like “True Detective,” whose plan is to have a new cast and plotline each season. When a quality project comes around, we don’t worry about the package, Lombardo said. HBO will continue to have “traditional, grounded dramas,” but other formats, too. “We’ve always bet on quality and we’ll continue to do so,” he said.
For the most part, those bets have paid off handsomely. Asked what shows he wished were at HBO, Plepler admitted FX’s “Fargo” and “The Bridge,” as well as AMC’s “Mad Men,” are “well done,” but “it’s not a zero-sum game” because there’s so much talent in the industry and HBO has “very talented” people working with it and “pitching to us.” Plepler said he doesn’t see shows on other networks “and wish we had them…we couldn’t be happier with our shows.”
Even the answer to an eternal question for TV execs—when to kill a series—is a content issue at HBO. “We feel the right thing is to [decide on ending a series using] creative integrity, you have to stay in touch with your [show] creator and decide when the story has come to an organic end,” Lombardo said. He admitted, “We’ve made a few mistakes,” however, noting HBO pulled the plug on “Deadwood” too quickly. From that HBO learned “to stay close to product” and the writers and “be fair to the viewer who’s invested in the show.” He added that unlike broadcasters who are concerned with ratings and advertising, “we’re in a different business,” which means HBO has “a luxury” but also “a responsibility” [to viewers].
Speaking of series, Lombardo said he couldn’t be happier with comedy “Silicon Valley,” which he called “an unexpected joy and delight…we couldn’t be happier.” Regarding “The Leftovers,” a new series based on Tom Perrotta’s novel where 2% of the world’s population vanishes, he admitted it’s “a tough show” in that it deals with sadness and pain. Still, he said he’s watched the whole season and “it’s really a terrific show…exceptional.” He’s also encouraged because a recent episode attracted 7mln viewers more than the previous ep. As for its future, “we are looking at the numbers and deciding now,” he said.
Tidbits: Lombardo and Plepler scotched reports that “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin is working on a series-ending movie. “That’s way down the road,” Plepler said. “There are no discussions” about a movie, Lombardo added. Moreover, HBO has no intention at this time of killing Thrones after season 6. The series has been renewed for seasons 5 and 6. Earlier in the day, Thrones pulled in the most Emmy nominations of any show. And reports of the death of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” might be premature. Apparently David emphatically told Lombardo at an event the other night that the series could return. If and when David wants to return to HBO, “he’ll always have a home here,” Lombardo said. HBO also is waiting patiently for “The Sopranos” creator David Chase. He began work on a series, “Ribbon of Dreams,” about early Hollywood, five years ago. We’ll be here, when he’s ready, Plepler said.