Beverly Hills, Calif. — Casey Bloys, who took the reins as HBO’s head of programming last spring after Michael Lombardo’s departure, faced considerable incoming fire during his first TCA executive session.
Some topics were predictable: the meltdown of Vinyl, the early on-air struggles of Bill Simmons, cast layoffs on Sesame Street, the confirmed end of Game of Thrones. But the dominant theme—consuming four separate questions from critics—put Bloys on the defensive regarding the use of sexualized violence and rape on shows like Game of Thrones, The Night Of and the upcoming Westworld. The heat is not new for HBO, which has faced versions of it periodically stretching back to The Sopranos a decade ago.
Initially, he largely demurred, saying “plenty of men get killed, too” and joking that “we’re going to kill everybody.” Eventually, he acknowledged that the criticism was “valid.”
The hot seat was new for Bloys, however, and the 12-year veteran of the network showed some perspiration in the bright spotlight. Initially, he sidestepped, saying, “I don’t necessarily see it as specific to women … plenty of men get killed too,” and even joking that “we’re going to kill everybody.” In Thrones, he pointed out, “Men are castrated, a man is fed a cake made out of his sons. The violence is extreme.” In Westworld, a sci-fi Western, “the point is that that they’re robots … so it’s a little bit different than Game of Thrones, where it’s human-on-human violence.”
Eventually, though, he acknowledged, “Is it something we think about? Yeah, the criticism is valid, so I think it’s something that people take into account. [Violence against women] is not something that people are wanting to highlight. The criticism is … point taken on it.”
Bloys faced an array of other questions as the network announced a flurry of air dates, renewals and new series. Among the other topics Bloys covered:
- HBO has learned valuable lessons from the meltdown of Vinyl, which was canceled after one season after initially earning a renewal. “The tough decision is, ‘Are we going to get this from good to great?’” Bloys recalled. “Where we came out was, I didn’t know if we were going to make it. And quite frankly, given the limited resources we have, there are other things I want to do.” He added, “I’d like to not have to do that again. After going through this, we will more carefully consider going forward.”
- Jon Stewart’s upcoming series would be fully animated. "He is establishing an animation studio because he wants to get his material out multiple times a day," Bloys said. The show "will be an animated parody of a cable news network with an Onion-like [text-based] portal." While HBO Now offers an opportunity for shorter-form pieces, a half-hour version for the linear channel is “probably” the plan. Also probable, but not definite, is a fall premiere in time for the election.
- True Detective could be revived. “It is a very valuable franchise for us,” Bloys said. Even though the show slumped badly in its second season and drew jeers from critics, the series “is not dead. I’m just not sure we have the right take for a third season.”
- Thrones will definitely end after its eighth season--something others had confirmed but, before today, not the network. Delays in its seventh season will disqualify it from consideration in next year’s Emmy race. Bloys shrugged, “I’ve been here in years when we’ve won a lot of Emmys and in years when we won not as many. … It’s just something we have to live with.” Even if Thrones’ nominations were subtracted from HBO's industry-leading haul this year, he noted, the network would still be on top of the heap. The seventh season will be seven episodes; the episode count for the eighth season has not been set.
- Asked about the Sesame Street layoffs, he said, “We don’t have any creative involvement or control over the show. … I don’t know enough about it” to comment, he said.
- Asked about adding a talk host who is not a white male like Simmons, John Oliver or Bill Maher, Bloys said, “I wouldn’t say there is a plan but a desire.” He said one of his core missions “as the new guy coming in” is to push “diversity in every sense of the world” – not just in terms of casting or creators but also location, theme, budget, scale and tone.
After that portent about diversity, the grilling soon began.