Plepler, Lombardo make first appearance

Newly upped HBO execs Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo made their first public appearance Thursday, walking the fine line between lamenting the loss of Chris Albrecht and maintaining that the net will see little change without him.

Speaking to reporters during a session at the Beverly Hilton, new programming chief Plepler said, “The mark of a good leader is, Did you leave a place better than you found it?”

But he also insisted, “I don’t think there’s an intent to have a strategic shift” in the wake of Albrecht’s departure. Mix of series, movies and special events — and balance among them –would stay the same, he said.

Net then went on to present a number of its big bets, including Cynthia Mort and Gavin Polone’s relationship drama “Tell Me You Love Me,” the sixth and potentially final season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and, in an emotional session with veterans, the James Gandolfini Iraq docu “Alive Day Memories.”

West Coast chief Michael Lombardo said that he “considers Chris a friend, and it’s been a very difficult transition” but added that he, too, foresaw little change.

HBO promoted from within to maintain an image of stability, and execs said their regime would be marked by a hands-off style. “The last thing Michael and I are going to do is impose ourselves (on programmers),” Plepler said. “That would be silly.”

But execs were nonetheless in the odd position of presiding over the unveiling of an upcoming slate that had largely come out of the Albrecht era.

HBO also made a number of other announcements at TCA.

  • Net sounded an ambivalent note about the future of two two-hour “Deadwood” movies, saying that the project could be in jeopardy for a number of reasons, from the fact that the cabler doesn’t have a hold on actors to a busy production schedule for creator David Milch on his current skein, “John From Cincinnati.”

A decision on whether the surfer show will be renewed will come at the end of the season, execs said. But “we intend to be in business with David Milch,” Plepler said.

  • On the scheduling front, net said that it aims to air Playtone’s WWII mini “The Pacific” in the third quarter of 2009, while the final season of “The Wire” will bow in the first quarter of 2008.

  • Cabler is taking its fake-reality game on “Entourage” to a new level, cutting a full trailer for fictional Vincent Chase movie “Medellin” and airing it after the closing credits, as well as, possibly, in other venues.

  • HBO is contemplating a one-hour “Extras” special instead of a third season. It is also in separate conversations with star Ricky Gervais about a standup special that would air on the paybox next year.

As for a potential “Sopranos” movie, execs suggested the talk was premature and speculative. “We haven’t had that conversation with David (Chase),” Lombardo said.

Plepler added: “I don’t think David has had that conversation with himself.”

In news from other nets at TCA, Lifetime, having carved out Sunday as a drama series destination, is now looking to brand several nights of the week, starting with a new reality-themed Friday block in fall.

The branded evening also joins Lifetime’s longstanding original-movie franchise on Monday (which could potentially shift nights, the network said). Net is also looking to perhaps open another night of original fare next year.

Lifetime Entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels said one of her goals when first joining the cabler was to create at least two nights of destination fare. “For now, we want to build out a second night of go-to programming,” Daniels said, “so that when people think, What’s on the air tonight?, they immediately think, Let’s check out Lifetime. We started with Sunday nights because we had a track record there.”

Strategy comes as Lifetime looks to capitalize on the success of this summer’s “Army Wives,” the cabler’s highest-rated series ever. The femme-centric net’s next two shows, “Side Order of Life” and “State of Mind,” bow Sunday alongside “Wives.”

Net is so high on “Wives” that it has added five more segs to its second-season order for the show (Daily Variety, July 12), bringing the total to 18.

As for the net’s scheduling plans, Lifetime will kick off its reality night on Oct. 12, with the second season of its skein “Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead,” featuring the British clairvoyant. Show will run at 9 p.m., followed at 10 by the new entry “America’s Psychic Challenge,” from Bunim-Murray Prods.

In other Lifetime news:

  • As expected, the channel has picked up eight episodes of “How to Look Good Naked,” hosted by Carson Kressley. “Naked” is based on the hit U.K. self-help show of the same name from RDF Media. “Naked” is set to premiere in January.

  • Lifetime will saturate its air with telepic “The Murder of Princess Diana” in the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of her death on Aug. 31.

  • Peter Gallagher, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Kristin Lehmann, Jenna Boyd and Peter Fonda are set to star in “The Gathering,” the four-hour mini from David Eick and John Shiban that will run in October. Also, Charles S. Dutton will direct and star in the original movie “Racing for Time,” set for next year. And the telepic “Custody,” starring Rob Morrow, James Denton and Kay Panabaker, will air throughout the second weekend of September.

Over at FX, cabler confirmed that “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” will make its long-awaited third-season bow in September — later than originally expected. Show was held up by the slow pace of production, net execs said.

Also, net said that Cadillac is aboard to sponsor the July 24 bow of FX’s Glenn Close legal thriller “Damages,” which will now air commercial-free.

And “Nip/Tuck” exec producer Ryan Murphy confirmed that Rosie O’Donnell is back this season in episode four, reprising her role as Dawn Budge. With the show moving from Miami to Beverly Hills, some of the plot this season will revolve around a “Nip/Tuck”-esque plastic surgery series that the lead characters are hired to consult on. Bradley Cooper has been cast to play the lead character on the show-within-the-show.

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