EXCLUSIVE: Casey Bloys, the new President of Programming of HBO, had an announcement to make and he was excited about making it: There would be a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO. The trouble was Bloys wasn’t here at the Banff Media Festival to make programming announcements. He’d agreed some time ago to do a master class in comedy with Jenni Konner, the show runner on Girls. But in the meantime Bloys’ role had suddenly shifted: He was no longer just HBO’s comedy chief but the head of everything from drama to movies to all else HBO pours forth for its 130 million global subscribers.
A good-natured man with an easy smile and a non-corporate manner, Bloys handled the situation with apparent ease. Before an audience of 200, he and Konner trekked through the off-beat comedic trauma of Girls. They described Lena Dunham’s uncertain introduction to the conventions of comedy TV. She’d never been in a writers’ room, for example, but soon came to appreciate its virtues. The writers meanwhile had to acquaint themselves with Dunham’s deeply personal style; that she’d come home from a date and, the morning after, show up with a ‘fever dream’ of that date in a script. Colleagues would be expected to embellish (or not).
Through all this Bloys listened attentively, asked producer-like development questions and occasionally injected some executive opinions. Of key shows in development at HBO half have women as showrunners and or as directors, he pointed out – a trend that will be accelerated. One new show, Divorce, is in the hands of Sarah Jessica Parker, hardly a newcomer to HBO.
The creative experience on Girls, Bloys noted, was uniquely familial. There was no infighting or second guessing, despite the fact that the show was about, and created by, young women in their 20s. One reason, Konner noted, was Dunham’s generosity of spirit and eagerness to work together. She even responded helpfully when Bloys reminded her of network requirements, such a season-long story arc.
Throughout the ‘master class,’ Bloys sustained his image as a non-network network executive. He has a warm laugh, he dresses like a writer, not a corporate apparatchik, his hair is askew and he looks like he’s spent his last 24 hours in a story meeting. As successor to Michael Lombardo — an appointment announced only a month ago — Bloys has a heavy portfolio to fulfill but seems comfortable with it. “I’ve already been working in drama these past months,” he said. “And our comedy material is very dramedy in style so it’s not a great transition.
Meanwhile in a separate session at Banff, Richard Plepler, Bloys’ boss, stressed the growing importance of digital distribution in HBO’s future. He also expressed enthusiasm for HBO’s expanding role in news, especially in the forthcoming Vice shows. The ratings for Bill Maher and John Oliver reflect viewers’ growing appetite for news commentary, he said – an arena to be fortified by Jon Stewart’s forthcoming offerings on the network. Plepler showed a couple of sizzle reels, one from Westworld, a highly stylized new show that had hit some speed bumps
But the key to HBO’s future remains in creative story-telling, Plepler stressed. “We need to create those moments when the viewers say ‘holy shit.’’ Those moments are what gives HBO its excitement.”