Industry split over Albrecht’s ouster

Hollywood weighs in on HBO's fracas

Chris Albrecht’s forced resignation from HBO has triggered a wave of strong reaction within the Hollywood community. Some see the decision as an overdue rebuke in an industry known for tolerating bad behavior, while others have questioned whether Time Warner’s action was precipitated by recent PR snafus and a scalp-hunting press.

The most prominent plea on Albrecht’s behalf came Thursday from Endeavor principal Ariel Emanuel, who wrote a piece titled “In Defense of Chris Albrecht” on the Huffington Post Web site. Emanuel characterized the firing as an overreaction given the forgiveness extended to other entertainment and sports figures, suggesting that news accounts created a pattern of behavior “that required the delivery of Chris’ head on a platter.”

Longtime manager and producer Bernie Brillstein also questioned the speed with which Albrecht was removed, saying, “Pressure from the media and the Web is causing public companies to behave in a manner they wouldn’t have a decade ago.” Brillstein added that many in the community are shocked by the stream of events.

Albrecht was arrested Sunday morning on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend following the HBO-carried Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing match. The HBO chief exec issued a memo to employees in which he admitted a problem with alcohol and announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence.

Following that announcement, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday on a 1991 altercation involving Albrecht and a former girlfriend and subordinate, Sasha Emerson. Later that day, Time Warner announced that Albrecht — a 22-year veteran of the pay channel — had been forced to resign.

Some executives have been reluctant to comment publicly given the volatility of appearing sympathetic toward Albrecht in the event that he is guilty of a crime. Specific details of the incident itself haven’t been released by authorities, who’ve said only that as a battery, it involved “hitting, choking or shoving.”

Still, some observers say separate issues surrounding Time Warner and a degree of scandal fatigue appeared to play a role in the company’s handling of Albrecht’s situation — beginning with a desire to resolve the matter before the annual shareholders meeting later this month.

In February, the head of TW’s Cartoon Network, Jim Samples, resigned after a promotion for the animated movie “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” triggered a terrorism scare in Boston that alarmed local authorities. Time Warner’s chief financial officer, Wayne Pace, also was named last year by an accused madam as one of her customers — a charge his attorney has denied.

Finally, Albrecht has been closely associated with Time Warner president Jeffrey Bewkes, who previously headed HBO and is considered the heir apparent to CEO Richard Parsons. The Times story reported that Bewkes signed off on a settlement payout to Emerson in the wake of the 1991 incident. Sources at HBO challenged this assertion, pointing out that Michael Fuchs was chief of HBO at the time of the incident, with Bewkes as chief financial officer.

Even those conflicted about Albrecht’s case expressed admiration for his skill as an executive. Emanuel stated that he had championed “some of the most creative and challenging original programming in the history of television.”

Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and a mainstay of the feevee channel, cautioned that “no one knows the facts” of what transpired in the incident Sunday that led to his arrest, and his downfall at HBO.

“The only facts I know about Chris Albrecht are that he is a genius television programmer, a great friend and a good person,” Maher said via email Thursday. “It’s a shame that the same sort of ‘gotcha,’ rush-to-judgment mentality that has infected politics has also come to show business.”

David Milch, the exec producer of HBO’s “Deadwood” and the upcoming “John From Cincinnati,” said that Time Warner had acted appropriately even if its motives were subject to debate. As a recovering addict himself, Milch said, “All these people saying the corporation should have forgiven him, what they’re really saying is the corporation should have kept him sick.”

(Steven Zeitchik in New York and Cynthia Littleton in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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