New boss has HBO’s pulse

Albrecht nutured cable net's signature skeins

NEW YORK — The symbolism is stunning: On the day that Chris Albrecht, president of original programming for HBO, gets elevated to chairman and CEO, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences reports that HBO has racked up 93 Emmy nominations, more than any other network on television.

Nets don’t typically promote programming execs to the chairman’s job, but during his 17 years at HBO Albrecht has shepherded some of the most honored, and highest-rated, original series, movies and miniseries in all of television.

Among the current crop, HBO’s comedy-drama “Six Feet Under” harvested 23 Emmy nominations, more than any other series, and its “Band of Brothers” miniseries beat all other longform programming this year with 19 nominations.

Thoroughbreds in HBO stable

Other multiple-Emmy-winning HBO series such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex & the City” are so popular they’ve become cultural events.

HBO’s wholehearted embrace of original programming will continue unabated, giving Albrecht a leg up as the natural choice to succeed Jeff Bewkes, who was promoted to chairman of the entertainment and networks group of the parent company of HBO, AOL Time Warner.

One of the main reasons for the importance of original programming on HBO is that episodes of shows like “Sopranos” and “Sex & the City” are proving to be the most requested programming within the video-on-demand experiments that the network is creating on cable systems throughout the country.

Earns $2.5 billion in revenues

HBO is the jewel in AOL TW’s crown, chalking up $2.5 billion in revenues last year and $700 million in earnings.

Those numbers will continue to rise if HBO can induce its digital subscribers to pay an extra monthly fee to access its programming whenever they want through subscription video-on-demand.

Theatrical movies are proving less successful in VOD because too many cable subscribers have already seen them by the time they get to the VOD window, either in the theaters, on DVD or on videocassette.

Albrecht has steadily gained responsibility since joining HBO as senior VP of original programming, West Coast, in June 1985. In 1990, he picked up the title of president of HBO Independent Prods., a division that develops programming for broadcast nets. The hit CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” comes out of that division.

HBO named Albrecht president of original programming in May 1995. Four years later, the network expanded his role, giving him oversight of original movie production as well.

His portfolio includes HBO’s sister network Cinemax.

Previously at ICM

Before HBO, he was a talent agent for ICM, where he signed Jim Carrey, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg.

Albrecht will continue to report to Bewkes, as will Bill Nelson, chief operating officer of HBO.

The role that Albrecht may have to draw on the most as chairman of HBO is his early foray as a standup comic, which paralleled his investment as co-owner of the Improv nightclub in New York City from 1975 to 1980.

Bewkes has always prided himself on the constant stream of witticisms that flows through his conversations. But as a one-time professional comic, Albrecht can claim true bragging rights.