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Matoian out in original show streamlining

NEW YORK — In a major shakeup at HBO, HBO Pictures president John Matoian is out and original programming chief Chris Albrecht will expand his terrain to include the cable web’s original movie production.

Albrecht, who already runs HBO’s original series development, specials and miniseries, will become president of all the company’s original programming, HBO chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes announced Monday.

Colin Callender, who formerly reported to Matoian as executive VP of HBO NYC — HBO’s boutique movie production unit in New York — has been promoted to president of HBO original movies. Callender will move to Los Angeles to oversee original film production and report to Albrecht.

Bewkes said his main motivation for making the executive shuffle was to once and for all establish a single person to head HBO’s increasingly large slate of original production. Two of HBO’s programming departments — HBO Sports and acquired film programming — will continue to report directly to Bewkes.

Successful slate

Albrecht — a 15-year HBO veteran — got the nod over Matoian due to his recent successes with shows such as “The Sopranos,” “Oz,” “Sex in the City,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Dennis Miller Live,” “The Chris Rock Show” and the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”

“I wanted to do this now so that we run this under a single person,” Bewkes told Daily Variety. “If you had to pick between the two of them, Chris deserved the chance to run the consolidated unit. Chris has clearly shown he’s ready to take on more responsibility.”

Bewkes was careful to praise Matoian’s 2-1/2-year reign as president of HBO Pictures. However, the HBO chairman said he was not surprised that Matoian decided to resign rather than give up his direct-reporting access to Bewkes.

“I was offered to report to Chris,” said Matoian, who will leave HBO immediately even though he has five months left on his contract. “I had total autonomy and had direct access to Jeff Bewkes, and I didn’t want to give that up.”

Because it doesn’t sell advertising, HBO tends to evaluate programming performance more by awards and buzz than ratings, and Bewkes praised Matoian for bagging 10 Emmy Awards during his tenure. Matoian said he was most proud of the Peabody Awards bestowed for his HBO biopic “Don King: Only in America” and the true-life Bosnian war piece “Shot Though the Heart.”

But several sources close to HBO said that more than a few of Matoian’s films have been disappointments. These include the HBO’s most expensive picture to date, the $14 million Vietnam drama “The Bright Shining Lie,” the David Mamet-written “Lansky” and “Winchell,” which drew the lowest-ever rating for an HBO original film.

Matoian proponents praise him for “Gia,” which put Angelina Jolie on the map, “Gotti,” and the Laurence Fishburne starrer “Always Outnumbered.”

Albrecht, who will continue to be based in Los Angeles, said consolidating original programming under one person will greatly simplify HBO’s dealings with the creative community.

“John and I found ourselves talking to the same people without knowing it,” Albrecht said.

Spread-out operation

More than most networks, HBO is known for allowing various fiefdoms to exist. Organizing all original programming under Albrecht will put HBO more in line with the structure of other networks, which tend to have one chief of entertainment programming.

“We have increased competition; TNT released a slate that looks like an HBO slate from a couple years ago,” Albrecht added. “We can’t be these little boutique operations.”

Even under its new structure, HBO will maintain separate movie production divisions in Los Angeles and New York. HBO NYC will continue to act as Miramax to HBO Original Pictures’ Disney.

Callender has not yet been replaced as head of HBO NYC, but sources predicted Callender’s No. 2, Frank Doelger, will get the nod.

Albrecht said he was just getting acquainted with HBO’s movies in development, but he commented that “we’re very high” on the three-part gay-themed film “If These Walls Could Talk II,” an HBO NYC project that has not yet been officially greenlit.

HBO NYC, which has seen its production slate shrink in the last year, has greenlit “A Lesson Before Dying” and “Witness Protection.”

HBO recently announced the development of the miniseries “Band of Brothers,” executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Matoian, who headed the Fox network’s entertainment division before joining HBO, said the executive changes occurred too quickly for him to plan his next career move.

“It just happened this weekend,” Matoian said.

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