HBO is shaking up its programming team, with Carolyn Strauss vacating the net’s top entertainment post.
Strauss will remain within the HBO fold, however, in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. According to the cabler, she’ll still have creative input in HBO programming. But the feevee channel is scouting for a new entertainment president.
In that post Strauss oversaw development and production on series, shortform series, specials and latenight skeins.
HBO’s other major programming divisions — longforms and theatricals, under HBO Films prexy Colin Callender; docs, under HBO Documentary and Family prexy Sheila Nevins; and HBO Sports, under president Ross Greenburg — remain unchanged.
According to insiders, HBO brass initially suggested to Strauss that she bring in a top development lieutenant. She opted against such a move and instead starting discussing her future with the net. Strauss was said to be mulling over the weekend whether to take a production deal or cut ties entirely, but by Sunday it was apparent that she would stick with the net but in a different role.
Holding up an official announcement is the fact that with no obvious internal front-runner to succeed Strauss, HBO also hasn’t yet been able to identify a big-name replacement.
The move isn’t a surprise; whispers that HBO was looking to make some changes in programming even predate the sudden departure of channel supremo Chris Albrecht in June.
At issue is HBO’s difficulty in coming up with a new generation of megahits to succeed retired signature skeins “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” and complement aging hits “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage.”
To some degree, that’s because nets like FX and rival Showtime have stolen a page from the HBO handbook and have been gunning for a piece of that edgy, critical-darling action.
But none of HBO’s more recent entries, such as “John From Cincinnati” and this winter’s “In Treatment,” have resonated with large auds. (Some, like “Flight of the Conchords,” have earned raves but haven’t posted the kind of numbers HBO was used to getting, particularly in its signature Sunday night programming block.) More recently, the net halted production on another upcoming skein, the Lily Tomlin vehicle “12 Miles of Bad Road.”
Industry execs and the pay cabler’s competish were abuzz with gossip last week that Strauss — who’d served as HBO Entertainment prexy since 2004, and before that, as exec VP of original programming — would be departing her post.
HBO was mum late Friday on the shuffle; but by Sunday, word had leaked to the point that HBO co-president Richard Plepler and programming group/West Coast operations topper Michael Lombardo sent out a hastily prepared statement.
“No one has made a more significant contribution to the success of HBO than Carolyn,” Plepler and Lombardo said in the joint statement. “We are truly delighted that she will continue to be a part of the HBO family. We cannot imagine HBO without her, and we are thrilled that we will continue to have the benefit of her judgment and unique talent.”
Shakeup reps the first major exec change by HBO’s new management structure. Bill Nelson took over the channel as chairman-CEO last year following Albrecht’s fall from grace; Plepler oversees programming from New York, while L.A.-based Lombardo handles West Coast duties.
The new structure also created more layers between the entertainment president and the CEO rather than a direct report.
Strauss’ legacy is secure as one of the architects of HBO’s unprecedented run of critically acclaimed and Emmy-winning hits. Beyond “The Sopranos,” “Curb” and “Sex,” that includes “Six Feet Under,” “The Wire,” “Carnivale,” “Oz,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Tracey Takes On …,” “Dennis Miller Live,” “Mr. Show” and “Da Ali G Show.”