In one of their first major moves after Entertainment One’s $4 billion acquisition by toy maker Hasbro was completed in early 2020, Entertainment One’s President and CEO Darren Throop and President of Film and Television Steve Bertram set out to find a Head of Television. They brought in former HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo, initially as a consultant. Since he was named President of Global Television in June 2020, Lombardo has led a ramp-up of TV projects based on Hasbro properties as well as original ideas. Of the Hasbro IP, a big priority for the company is to develop scripted and unscripted series based on the classic Dungeons & Dragon game, Lombardo said in an extensive interview with Deadline about his programming strategy.
EOne Television already has been plotting a potential universe of multiple series and movies based on the company’s Power Rangers IP shepherded by Jonathan Entwistle, which we can reveal has been set up at Netflix. Additionally, a game show based on one of Hasbro’s most recognizable board games, Monopoly, is in early stages of development at CBS.
D&D and Monopoly are looking to join other previously announced scripted and unscripted series based on Hasbro games, including a Risk scripted series, which House of Cards creator Beau Willimon is developing as part of a first-look deal with eOne, a Clue animated series in the works at Fox, a Magic: The Gathering scripted series starring Brandon Routh in development at Netflix, holiday special Play-Doh Squished hosted by Sarah Hyland at Amazon’s IMDb TV as well as unscripted series Mouse Trap at Fox and Guess Who? at NBC. (eOne also did a Candy Land competition series hosted by Kristin Chenoweth on Food Network last fall.)
In the interview, Lombardo, whose U.S.-based team is led by Pancho Mansfield, President of Global Scripted Programming, and Tara Long, eOne’s President of Global Unscripted TV, also discussed developing original/non Hasbro IP scripted and unscripted for linear and premium/streaming networks that include an untitled espionage drama starring Noah Centineo, created by The Rookie creator Alexi Hawley, which has an eight-episode order at Netflix, a scripted series adaptation of Lisa Gardner’s novel Before She Disappeared with Oscar winner Hillary Swank set to star and executive produce, as well as a Ghislaine Maxwell docuseries for Discovery+ from the best-selling author James Patterson whose company has a first-look deal with eOne.
Lombardo talked about the shift he made in eOne’s approach to overall deals, addressed the death of Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner and Hawley’s memo banning “live” gunfire on set in wake of the fatal Rust shooting, and he also shared what his favorite recent HBO show is (Hint, it comes from a creator he has worked with during his HBO tenure.)
DEADLINE: In your most recent Deadline interview, which you did at the time of your departure from HBO in 2016, you told me that, after a 33-year career as an executive at HBO, you wanted to switch to producing. You did that for a while before taking the eOne job. What drew you back to the executive branch?
MICHAEL LOMBARDO: Producing, I did it first for a deal with HBO when I had one person working for me, and then a short-lived partnership with Pete Berg [at Endeavor Content]. There were things about it I loved, I obviously loved the independence, a lack of a system, stuff you need to do in a corporation. I learned to love a lot of things I didn’t fully appreciate would be as challenging as they are, selling, starting something from scratch, searching for things and really hustle as opposed to, when you’re at HBO you become very complacent, things just appear.
But it can be a lonely endeavor. I was never a lone wolf. The partnership with Pete and Endeavor Content was coming to an end and I was like, how do I do this? I did not want to go back to another large corporate organization in which process was as important as the work itself. I got a call about eOne and scratched my head and said, eOne? I remember them, they did a couple of shows for us [at HBO]. My lawyer at the time said, just meet with them, they’ve just recently been acquired by Hasbro, they are at an interesting moment, they’re really good people.
And I did, I met with Darren Throop and Steve Bertram and it just felt similar to what I had done but fresh and different. I took some of the skills I had developed as a producer and some of the skills that I developed as an executive at HBO and brought them in a new, fresh company that, even though it’s been around for a while, the Hasbro acquisition I think gave the company a moment to think about resetting, refocusing, and so it felt very much like a startup.
It also is a very lean company in the best of ways. I know everybody who reports to me personally. I do have some staff meetings but the focus is on the work. I’m enjoying it enormously, I really am. It’s great, and the people are fantastic.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about this reset at eOne post-acquisition. Over the last year, we’ve reported on a lot of TV adaptations of Hasbro properties but also a few high-profile original projects with the likes of Alexi Hawley and Hilary Swank. Can you describe your strategy balancing Hasbro IP and original ideas?
LOMBARDO: I think eOne, at least the eOne prior to Hasbro, had been a scrappy independent that had grown through acquisitions and had become actually pretty successful, had accumulated some interesting assets. But I think the film and television piece didn’t have a North Star as it were, and I think the acquisition by Hasbro provided that. It not only gave the company an enormous amount of IP, it brought the financial wherewithal to double-down and aspire to be a first-class independent studio, whatever that meant in the 21st century.
So, from my vantage point having been out there, I knew two things were important: IP and access to talent, and I believe the Hasbro acquisition provided both for this company. It gave an enormous amount of IP which has its challenges but also enormous opportunities and the ability to increasingly make deals with talent and bring them in, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
In terms of the approach I think the way I’ve looked at it with my team and with Steve and Darren, it really is four buckets.
One is Hasbro: be smart and take these products out into the best medium that can translate that product. Not all brands are meant to be Game of Thrones. And so, we’ve spent an enormous amount of time, energy on mining that.
The second bucket: This company had acquired The Mark Gordon Company, and I think as a continuation of that the broadcast business has been incredibly not only lucrative but I think opportunistic place for an independent to continue to develop and produce shows. So, we’ve focused on talent like James Patterson IP, Liz Garcia. We made overall deals with Alexi and [The Rookie EP] Terence Paul Winter to really lean in, and we have a number of things set up at broadcast.
The third is, when Hasbro acquired eOne, it wasn’t OK, just do Hasbro, and I think Brian Goldner, may he rest in peace, understood that that would limit the talent and scope of what was possible. So, it’s also, continue to be a presence and create programming that you’re proud of in the streaming space where the welcome mat for independents is still very much in flux, but I think we’ve been really successful and found some great partners in that space.
And lastly, we’ve continued to expand the unscripted business which has been all new for me. But it’s fun, dynamic, fast, and it’s been incredibly fertile for us to continue to forge a path. We’ve done it both through acquisitions and growing that business.
DEADLINE: We will go through the buckets, starting with Hasbro. You mentioned Brian who had been credited with steering Hasbro into the entertainment space. Following his death, will the company keep that course and support eOne, providing resources for film and TV?
LOMBARDO: Look, Brian’s passing… I won’t say surprised everybody but it was still very much felt in the company in a very profound way. He had a vision of how Hasbro would morph from a toy company to a brand company; he started that, and I do believe the company continues to be very bullish on that. That is the future they see, and the entertainment part of that is critical to that vision.
So, every message we’ve gotten is full steam ahead. He’s missed. He loved it, he liked getting in the weeds and so, on a personal level, that connection is gone, but I think Hasbro is firmly in this business.
DEADLINE: You have in the works quite a few projects based on Hasbro titles — Risk, Clue as well as Power Rangers, which I hear was set up at Netflix several months ago. Can you give us a status update?
LOMBARDO: Since we set up Power Rangers with Jonathan, we pitched really a whole-world approach. It’s not just one show, it is shows followed by films, some kids’ programming. We have found a great writing partner for him, they are off. Knock on wood, Netflix is excited, we’re excited, we hope to have some news soon.
Risk is early stages but we’re really excited about it, and working with Beau has been just a dream. He’s dynamic and his interests are wide ranging so, yes, we’re focusing on Risk with him but we also have a number of other things in development with him.
We have a show, Magic: The Gathering, which is a huge gaming brand under the Wizards of the Coast sector which is their online gaming community. We’re going to be airing that on Netflix, it’s a great animated show. And we have Clue set up at Fox as an animated series with Bento Box who do Bob’s Burgers. It’s going to be a bold, kind of slightly tongue-in-cheek, like Bob’s Burgers. It’ll be fun, a little bawdy and a great Clue for those who love that game.
Our big focus right now is Dungeons & Dragons. When I initially sat with Darren and Steve, knowing that Dungeons is part of the Hasbro portfolio was incredibly exciting to me. It’s a world and part of that is, its challenges are wow, where do you start? We don’t want it to just be one show so we are building out, developing out a multi-pronged approach for television, a number of scripted shows and unscripted, and we hope to be taking this out to the marketplace early next year.
DEADLINE: Are you a Dungeons & Dragons fan?
LOMBARDO: I was not a Dungeons & Dragons kid, and maybe I’m too old for it, but the people that played it, they continue to play it, it’s so meaningful. They’re so passionate about it, and we have had numerous discussions and a lot of interesting filmmakers, it’s just finding the right team that has legs, that feels fresh in this moment. We have a big movie that’s in post right now that will come out first so, we’re trying to also navigate the brand more holistically so that the movie feels not apart from but connected somehow to a bigger universe.
We also have an enormous number of what I’ll call game unscripted shows and there are a lot of these brands that lend themselves. Amazon recently announced an air date for Play-Doh Squished with Sarah Hyland hosting. Our hope and expectation is that that’s going to be the beginning of a longer-running franchise on Amazon. And we announced Mouse Trap on Fox. We have four other really big, bold game shows in various stages at the broadcast networks.
DEADLINE: I’ve heard Monopoly may be one of them?
LOMBARDO: We have a Monopoly game show in development at CBS in addition to the feature adaptations in the works. It’s a great fun-time game which felt like it made sense as a game show. It is a moment right now where primetime games work.
So, we’re continuing full-steam ahead in the Hasbro stuff and at the same time we’re trying to pace it out so we don’t go out all at once with everything. This is a long strategy, but Dungeons I think is the next big thing from that.
DEADLINE: What was your favorite Hasbro game growing up?
LOMBARDO: I shared this with Beau, I was a huge Risk fan, and all of my competitive juices going out and negotiating. Monopoly was just too intense for me, too many family fights, but Risk I loved and I still like looking at a map of the world. As a kid that was just transportive, Where the hell is Irkutsk?
DEADLINE: Switching to broadcast, I want to ask you first about the news that came out of The Rookie recently when creator Alexi Hawley sent a memo in the wake of the Rust tragedy to say that the show would stop using live rounds. As a studio that supported his decision, what do you think about the issue?
LOMBARDO: I think Alexi is a man of enormous integrity, passion, and a clear sense of moral obligation to his crew and cast, and I think he did the right thing for The Rookie. And I’m certainly not backpedaling from the position that he took but I do think we’ve had to go, OK, what really happened, what is the answer here to assure safety. We’re looking at that holistically across all of our shows, shows shot in the U.S., shows shot abroad, and I think as a company we’re evolving, talking obviously to the unions and the other studios, for an industrywide approach that I think ensures that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.
I think what Alexi did felt very important right in that moment, and right for that show in particular, and I think his cast and crew felt enormously supported by that. We have not mandated that every show we ever do follow Alexi’s. That’s a decision Alexi made, and on a personal level I totally understand and applaud him. As a company I think we’re having, and every company is right now going OK, this is a bigger conversation. You could see it’s in the news, it’s about work hours, it’s about people, there are a whole host of issues that were raised by this, making sure crews are not strained beyond capacity so bad decision-making happens.
DEADLINE: I’ve heard from executives at independent TV studios that the current state of the broadcast business has made it a little bit easier for independents to get shows on the air that it was a few years ago. Vertical integration is still strong but it’s possible for outside studios to make deals. What has been your experience — you mentioned that you have multiple broadcast projects set up?
LOMBARDO: We have scripted projects at all of the networks. I think vertical integration is a reality everywhere but I think broadcast is still, I’ll call it linear as opposed to just broadcast — is an area where if the material is good and it feels right for that audience they are still creative in dealmaking and there aren’t hard and fast rules. And so, we’ve been very successful as not only an independent but independent with a very fertile distribution business, have been very successful making deals there.
Look, it’s certainly not an easy business. I mean, getting a show ordered still requires good luck and hitting a target, and then keeping it on its own. And I really do believe that everything goes in cycles. I think the truth of the matter in this moment where volume, innovation, fresh ideas are critical, you have to be willing and open to whatever the package is that it comes with. Yeah, there are some buyers that are less excited about independents right now but if the property’s compelling enough you find a home.
And I think, not everything can be homegrown. I think having companies coming from outside brings in a freshness of thinking and approach that sometimes the same five people in the company won’t generate. So, it changed but right now broadcast continues to be a really, I think, interesting business and a fruitful business and we’re certainly leaning in.
DEADLINE: Speaking of linear beyond broadcast, you have Cruel Summer, which has been renewed for Season 2 by Freeform.
LOMBARDO: Yeah, it was a great experience, not only creatively working with Freeform on every level, from making the deal to executing a show. The response you get when a show works on linear is so exciting. And then again, I think what you’re seeing is linear is moving, at some point it does evolve in many cases to an online, a digital component and the reach is fantastic. They also work internationally which is part of our business, and it’s incredibly rewarding.
DEADLINE: You mentioned that it’s part of your business, going with a linear U.S. network instead of a global streamer would allow you to keep international distribution that you can monetize…
LOMBARDO: I think that obviously is an area that’s helpful for us. At the same time, Nellie, when I took this job, eOne had been clear with me that the creative should dictate where something goes. There are certain shows that are built to be with a streamer, and that’s where we will go, and we’ll make the best deal for that show we can, But we are not making shows just to feed a distribution pipeline, we’re making shows, great shows. I certainly expect and hope that some of them will continue to take advantage of that opportunity but it would be tantamount to closing our doors. We’re an independent, we’re small, scrappy, independent, we are creative in our deal making, hopefully as much as we are in our approach to scripts.
DEADLINE: Now transitioning to a familiar territory for you, the premium/streaming space where eOne has Yellowjackets, which just premiered on Showtime, airing behind the Dexter revival.
LOMBARDO: We’re all glowing; we got an incredible review in the New York Times. It wasn’t a show we built for reviews but it feels really heartening to the creators, the producing team, and us to see it rates that way. It’s a really fun, exciting show but yes, and they have been a great partner with us. It’s funny, obviously having worked at HBO for the number of years I worked there, you develop a certain kind of siloed view and then I’ve been experiencing working with a number of what once were competitors of ours and I’m blown away by the talent across the board, but they’ve been exceptional partners and I’m excited for the response, I’m excited to continue telling the story.
And look, David and his team knew this was a swing for them. This is a show that’s younger, more female-skewing than what has been traditionally Showtime and they embraced it and are promoting the heck out of it. We’re shooting a show right now in Montreal for Netflix with Noah Centineo. Doug Liman’s directing the first two, Alexi had written it. He’s pretty spectacular that he has two shows going on at the same time and is handling them without a bead of sweat, at least that I’m seeing.
And we’ve been doing a number of shows at Netflix. They’ve been a great partner creatively, good notes, smart with us even though they control as they do the worldwide rights, but we’re producing it and they’re respecting us at the studio and they’re there to support us. It’s been great.
DEADLINE: Have you set the Hilary Swank series at a network/platform yet?
LOMBARDO: We actually have decided to develop the script first so, we’ve hired a really interesting writer named Jada Nation who is in the process of writing the script. There’s an interesting example of a show, which I see a trend: artists come in and they want the best writer and they want the best home for it, and that means a home that embraces it. So, with Hilary and our partners on that, I don’t know where that show goes. Could it be a broadcast show? Absolutely. Could it be a streaming show? It could. I think what you’re seeing is, I think there used to be a really hard line between what was a streamer and what was a linear. I think that line has gotten so fuzzy. Look, there are some shows, obviously, and they’re multi-cam, but I think audiences are no longer turning their nose up at shows on the streamers or subscription services that are PG-14. There is a wider range of the kind of material that works at both streamers and at broadcast and they’re starting to intersect a bit.
We took out a project recently with Keke Palmer whom we have an overall with, and that could have landed at a number of places. We landed at the right home, and I think that’s increasing. And so, on the Hilary Swank project we’re writing it, we’ll have a conversation, and I think no one’s going into this with a doctrinaire approach that this needs to be either a streamer or a broadcast show. The rules are bending a bit.
DEADLINE: What about the HBO/HBO Max, have you sold anything there?
LOMBARDO: We have stuff in development. We have much more in development at HBO Max. I haven’t visited their new offices but [HBO Head of Drama] Francesca [Orsi] and her team and [Head of Comedy] Amy [Gravitt] and her team are people we know well and continue to bring stuff to. With some of the new players — Paramount+, Peacock, IMDb — it’s been exciting for studios. It’s a moment where there is a real leaning-in for content; we have things in development and are going to announce something in production soon at one of them.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about your acquisition strategy. eOne itself was recently acquired and before that, as you mentioned, it grew through acquisitions of companies like The Mark Gordon Co. and Blackfin. There have been no new acquisitions recently. Is eOne still in pursuit of companies to buy or do you not see a need to bulk up further in the Hasbro era?
LOMBARDO: What we call the eOne strategy prior to Hasbro was very acquisition-focused. It’s probably slowed down a bit, I think the real challenge ahead of us is to integrate all the new Hasbro IP with the existing companies we have at the same time. We are absolutely still — I think less in acquisition — but making what I call interesting financial relationships, partnerships with companies that bring an aspect of this journey that we don’t have in-house. So, yes, we continue to certainly be open to it but it’s not a big, certainly we’re not charged with finding the next Mark Gordon.
DEADLINE: What about your overall deal strategy? Yellowjackets came out of producer Drew Comins’ overall deal, which was in place when you started. You have signed pacts with such talent Hawley and Palmer.
LOMBARDO: When I started at eOne I think without exception all the deals were with producers, non-writing producers. That’s obviously been lucrative and a source of enormous business for us. In this moment when the access to a limited pool of talent is so important, we’ve been rotating our financial and individual interest toward making deals with talent.
So, we’ve made a number of deals with writers, we’ve made a number of deals with on-screen actors, and I think we’re going to be announcing more soon. Those have turned out to be really exciting for us — not that the other deals aren’t — but there’s nothing more frustrating in this moment, Nellie, than having a great piece of material, a great book and banging your head against the wall to find a good writer who’s free. The growth of content across the platforms has not also resulted in a huge expansion in experienced, talented writers, directors, actors.
And so, it’s been enormously satisfying to be able to work directly with writers who we know are thinking about shows with us, and that will continue to be our focus.
DEADLINE: You mentioned the learning curve in unscripted, which has been a new area for you. You inherited such established series as MTV’s Siesta Key and Ex on the Beach.
LOMBARDO: I think that’s been an incredibly exciting and fertile area for us, not only the acquisition of Blackfin, we’re integrating Renegade right now which has its own really robust programming slate, we made a deal with Daisybeck in England. It’s an area that I think used to be relegated to only certain networks that put their toe into what was called reality or unscripted. We’re now going everywhere in that, there is not a platform, linear or digital, that doesn’t have interest in unscripted. So, we’re continuing to lean heavily into it and, as I said, it’s been a great area for Hasbro.
DEADLINE: One final question. Do you still watch still HBO? What is your favorite show?
LOMBARDO: Well, I have to say I took such pleasure in watching White Lotus. I’m an enormous fan of Mike White, and I think what he pulled off with that was just spectacular. The truth is I don’t have a lot of time for watching but I absolutely check out HBO. I continue to root for them, and as I said, particularly when it comes from Mike White. I love the show, love him, and I’m really happy that it got the kind of attention it did.
DEADLINE: Hopefully you’ll do something with him at eOne.
LOMBARDO: We might.
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