Scorsese, Simon get HBO greenlights

Parker to exec produce 'Washingtonienne'

HBO has greenlit three pilots, including David Simon’s next project for the pay cabler and a period drama from Martin Scorsese and “The Sopranos” alum Terence Winter.

HBO toppers Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo said Thursday during the net’s presentation at the Television Critics Assn. press tour that they are ramping up pilot development at a furious pace. Lombardo confirmed there are conversations about a “Sex and the City” bigscreen sequel and that HBO would be up for a feature rendition of “The Sopranos,” if series creator David Chase is willing.

In addition to the drama pilots in the works from Simon and Winter, the paybox is about to begin lensing the half-hour comedy pilot “Washingtonienne,” based on the novel by Jessica Cutler, who had written a saucy blog based on her sex life with real-life figures on the D.C. political scene. Sarah Jessica Parker is exec producing, and shooting will begin in the fall.

Simon, co-creator of HBO’s “The Wire” and the steward of its upcoming Iraq war mini “Generation Kill,” is set to begin work on “Treme,” an hourlong drama concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Pilot will be shot on location in New Orleans.

Winter, an exec producer of “The Sopranos,” will return to the HBO fold as the creative force behind the drama “Boardwalk Express,” about the birth of organized crime in 1920s Atlantic City. Scorsese and the “Entourage” team of Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson are also set to exec produce.

HBO came to TCA having recently renewed Gabriel Byrne starrer “In Treatment”; net will launch its newest series, the vampire-themed “True Blood,” from “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball, in September. While viewership of “In Treatment” and “Tell Me You Love Me,” which is also returning, has been modest, Lombardo said both shows have drawn a loyal aud, making the decision to renew these series fairly simple, particularly for “In Treatment.”

Massive hits, such as “The Sopranos,” are always the goal, but big audience totals aren’t what HBO defines as a hit.

“You have to have quality first,” Lombardo said during the Thursday afternoon sesh at the Beverly Hilton. “You define success as differentiation and quality. It’s a huge mistake to try to find the next big thing. You have to put quality first.”

Plepler added: “It would be a mistake for us to be swinging for home runs and then you don’t deliver on the quality. If they’re done well and have a sizable (aud) that’s unbelievably loyal, that’s fine. We are not selling CPMs, we’re selling a brand.”

Following the tremendous success of the pic rendition of HBO’s long-running series “Sex and the City,” Lombardo said there’s a major push for a sequel.

“There’s enormous interest by Warner Bros. and New Line, and we’re trying to put that together now,” he said. “Everyone associated with the project was liberated by the enthusiasm of the fans.”

As for a possible and often discussed film based on “The Sopranos,” HBO is aboard if creator Chase is up for it. Chase’s past statements about the prospect of tackling a theatrical “Sopranos” project haven’t been particularly encouraging.

Plepler and Lombardo also discussed the changeover earlier this year in the programming department from longtime HBO Entertainment prexy Carolyn Strauss to Sue Naegle, who was on hand to intro a few show panels but did not address the assembled reporters.

The projects that the net is greenlighting nowadays aren’t all that different from those in the past, but there’s more of them, Lombardo noted.

“I don’t know if the strategy has changed. Sue’s style is different from Carolyn’s,” he said. “She’s done a lot in 2½ months. We’ve had to be more proactive and reach out. We want to chase people with other points of view. We’ve ramped up the volume a bit.”

HBO also announced that “Entourage” will return for a 12-episode fifth season on Sept. 7. Larry David has agreed to another season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and comedian Chris Rock will star in a standup special on Sept. 27.

Other items of note from the sesh: Plans for a “Deadwood” telepic are now officially dead, and the Linda Bloodworth-Thomason series “12 Miles of Bad Road,” which HBO began filming and then scrapped, has not been picked up by another network.

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