Thursday at the Television Critics Association (TCA) 2013 Summer Press Tour, HBO CEO Richard Plepler, and president of HBO programming Michael Lombardo, addressed reporters about the current state of their network, and plans for the future. Here are some of the highlights.
Game of Thrones
According to Michael Lombardo, when it comes to Game of Thrones, “As far as I’m concerned, it can go on as long as there are stories to tell. I know there are the issues with the books and catching up. We certainly haven’t gotten anywhere near that conversation with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] yet.”
Lombardo also jokingly (?) added that their note to author George R. R. Martin was: “Get busy writing.”
When asked about the continued future of True Blood, which was just renewed for a seventh season, Lombardo offered, “On True Blood, you know, we’re excited about it, feels like there’s a new energy this season. We’re talking to Brian about next year. No decisions have been made at this point how much longer that show will be running. It continues to have a really engaged fan base. And I think Brian Buckner brought some really great energy in this year in terms of the storytelling.”
Criminal Justice (the pilot James Gandolfini shot before his death)
Prior to Lombardo and Plepler coming out, Quentin Schaffer of HBO had offered some words on the passing of James Gandolfini who, of course, was a huge part of the network’s past thanks to his work on The Sopranos.
“[We want to] thank many of you for the wonderful tributes you wrote to Jim Gandolfini,” Schaffer said. “I’ve got to tell you, we got some of the best writing I’d seen. He was a wonderful part of the HBO family, and he’s greatly missed. Anybody who comes to HBO is part of our family.”
A little while later, a question came up regarding Criminal Justice, a pilot that Gandolfini had filmed that would have had him working with HBO again. Lombardo commented on the status of that pilot.
“We would never air the pilot with James in it,” Lombardo said. “There’s no reason to air that. The conversation would be about reshooting, obviously, the portion that Jim had already performed in and recasting going forward. … [W]e’re having conversations with Steve Zaillian about how to proceed. You know, as Quentin indicated, Jim’s passing took us took the wind out of our sails quite a bit at HBO, and so it’s taken some time to even be able to have conversations with Steve about the future of that. So we’re talking about it now. He’s obviously a large presence, a fantastic actor, hard to think about replacing him, but we’re having those conversations.”
With the final five episodes of the drama Treme left to be shown, the question came up of when HBO would be airing them. After consulting with some executives in the back of the room, Lombardo confirmed that Treme would return with its final episodes starting Dec. 1.
“I think what we’re doing,” said Lombardo, “is [Treme is] coming right after Boardwalk Empire. Boardwalk Empire airs its episodes, and it will follow immediately in the 9 o’clock time slot.”
On HBO adopting an a la carte model
Richard Plepler addressed a question about whether, given the rapidly changing platforms in media, it might be the time for HBO to adopt an a la carte model, where anyone could order the shows online.
“Right now,” Plepler said, “the right model for us, the model that works for us, is working with our partners, expanding our brand out into the multichannel universe as widely as we can. HBO GO is a tremendous product. As you know, it has won numerous awards in the digital space, and for our satellite partners, our teleco partners, our cable partners, it helps them sell our product, which is why our sub growth is up. So right now, it’s the right model.
“Having said that, we’re constantly improving HBO GO. We look at it as kind of, you know, we have a BMW 5 Series. We’re building a BMW 7 Series, and what we do with that in the future will depend upon a variety of factors. But right now, we have a very good model that works for us, and our partners are the best way for us to drive our product out into the community.”
In the wake of Laura Dern’s Emmy nomination for Enlightened, a question arose about the circumstances that led to the show being canceled.
“I think it was really a conversation,” said Lombardo. “Some of it was about seeing a show that didn’t grow in its second year, you know, had not had as robust ratings as we had hoped for because we think that it’s a beautiful show, and in the second year we think even elevated in terms of the creativity, [but] it took a downturn. But I think the most important element to us in not going forward was just that we felt creatively that, you know, the story of Amy Jellicoe had come to a natural resting place, and we thought it was best to end it where we did. So it wasn’t a financial decision per se. It was really about choices and a creative decision about it had worked beautifully, and it felt we should end where we ended it.”
Eastbound and Down
Lombardo didn’t offer any hints on what to expect in the upcoming season of Eastbound and Down, because, “Kenny Powers would stomp me to death.”
Plepler did point out how they view Eastbound and Down as one of HBO’s “passion engagement” shows. “By which we mean,” he said, ” of our 30 million subscribers, we’re trying to create shows that are passion engagement shows with different pieces of that 30 million. Eastbound? Quintessential passion engagement show for that audience, and, I think, delivered for us exactly what we hoped it was going to deliver.”
Lombardo pointed out that Eastbound and Down “was a slow build for us. … It built sort of exponentially. … I think it was, for us, one of the first shows where the off-linear viewing was as significant as it was an enormously important aspect of the viewing picture.”
Lombardo had little doubt that The Newsroom would be renewed for a third season.
“I think the odds are excellent,” he said. “We’re very happy with the show. You know, honestly, the conversations with Aaron at this point are all about schedule. … I would be shocked if you weren’t hearing an announcement soon. … Again, the numbers this year are surpassing the numbers last year. And for us, it’s not just the aggregate number, it’s again, we’re in the passion engagement game. So when you see that growing, whatever the base is, it’s really important to us.”
A few questions were addressed about the Cinemax series Transporter and Hunted. According to Lombardo, “nothing is going on with Transporter. We have elected not to proceed with our involvement with that project.
“And on Hunted as it existed, our co-production partner did not want to continue with it. So that ended. And we are developing something with Frank [Spotnitz] with [Melissa George's] character in mind for possibly another series.” (Or possibly a series of films, Lombardo would later clarify.)
In the Works
Some projects in the works for HBO discussed at the panel include an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel written as a feature-length adaptation by David Milch, in development; another project with David Milch, along with Art Linson, on a pilot that may go into production (“we’re actually talking casting at this point,” said Lombardo, with Plepler adding that it is “a look at a dynastic New York media family … in the classic Milchian voice.”); a project about the life of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, with Lombardo saying that a script is in and Eric Stonestreet is attached to star; and a Jonathan Groff series about three gay men living in San Francisco who are “struggling with intimacy in a dramedy sort of way,” according to Lombardo.
Game of Thrones: Keith Bernstein/HBO
The Newsroom: Melissa Moseley/HBO