Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming, assembled the employees in the network’s Santa Monica offices Thursday in order to address the topic on many minds in Hollywood: the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger.
According to those present, he noted that AT&T executives are pleased with the performances of Warner Bros., HBO and Turner and consider retaining top executives and stars at those companies a major priority. He also said that AT&T executives had no plans to micromanage their new acquisition and were intent on having the three divisions stick to the kind of content creation that made the deal attractive in the first place.
Asked about the meeting, Bloys declined to comment about the merger, but said he was looking forward to meeting with his staff in the future to update them on the deal.
He did, however, discuss to address the fate of drama series “Westworld” and “The Night Of” at a time when HBO, long a leader in premium programming, is facing more competition than ever — as well as the looming end of the Westeros saga “Game of Thrones.”
When the winds of change swept through HBO earlier this year, Bloys, then the network’s head of comedy, ended up ascending to one of the network’s top jobs. One of his first orders of business was canceling “Vinyl,” and another was overseeing the launch of “Westworld,” which judging by the ratings so far (12 million per episode), has caught on with HBO’s viewers.
It was long a custom at the cabler to renew new series before they’d gotten too far into their debut seasons, but Bloys has taken a more considered approach with the sci-fi saga, as well as the prospects of the hit summer series “The Night Of.” In an interview with Variety, he also offered a few thoughts on the “arms race” that has arisen in TV in the last few years.
Do you want another season of “The Night Of”?
Yes, absolutely. The only issue with doing another season is for them to come up with an idea that excites them. Steve [Zaillian] and Richard [Price] are talking and sharing ideas. I think it’ll be a longer process, probably. Both of them take their time and will only do something they’re really passionate and excited about. They’re not going to do another season just to do another season.
Would another season be just one case again?
I don’t know. My guess is, it would be [one case in a season]. I think they’re talking about a lot of different variations, so at this point, all I know is that they’re talking about it. They haven’t come to us with anything. They’re just trying to get themselves excited about a take.
Would it be with John Turturro again?
That would be my hope. I think that’s what they’re thinking. But all of it is speculation at this point.
I hope we would see his feet more.
It did do a lot for psoriasis sufferers.
You haven’t renewed “Westworld” yet. What’s going on there?
I want to get a very complete picture of the ratings, which seem to be doing very well, so we’re happy with that. [The executive producers are] going to talk to us about what they envision a second season being. But right now I would say it’s looking really good. We’re very pleased with how it’s doing.
What would you tell people to look for in the second half of the season?
All I would say is, it’s a very satisfying end. I think questions will be answered. I love reading the fan theories online. I think it’s great the way people have engaged. I’m just pleased to see the reception from an engagement point of view, and that it has started all of these conversations. I think people will get the answers they’re looking for by the end of Season One. A lot of the ones that people are buzzing about.
Have some people have already guessed correctly?
There are a lot of theories out there, and with some of them, I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve constructed the guesses. I’ll just say, they’re getting close.
One thing that has struck me is how much people have engaged with it on a puzzle level. But I would think, ultimately, you want it to be much more than a puzzle show.
Yes. I think a lot of the fans are engaging with Dolores and Maeve specifically, and so from an emotional point of view, I think that will grow, in terms of those characters’ journeys. And from a mystery point of view and a story point of view, I think you will get — I don’t know if “answers” is the right word, but maybe it’s “satisfaction.” You’ll see how Ford and the Man in Black play out by the end, story-wise.
It’s a show with a lot of violence of different varieties. Going forward, with this season or beyond, will that be as much of a feature?
After I hear the second-season pitch, I will tell you. But I know it’s something that [executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy] are mindful of. You brought it up, and I think rightly so. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a question where, if it continues, it will hopefully have some context to it.
Speaking of context, you have these two tentpole epics in “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones.” But aside from those shows, in the one-hour realm, it doesn’t feel like you’re commissioning a lot of other tentpole-ish shows. Is it fair to say that?
What I would like to see on the hour side is what we did on the half-hour side. We did everything from “Getting On” to “Ballers,” and everything in between, in terms of scope, scale, diversity, location. Having “Game of Thrones” and now hopefully “Westworld” going forward are two great tentpoles to have. I think that we will continue to develop other versions of a big event show. But I would also like to have shows that are not genre. Shows about families or shows that are smaller in scale, or shows that don’t take place in mythical realms. As I said at TCA, I’d like to have a little bit more diversity in all senses of the world on the drama slate.
The arms race in TV shows no sign of slowing down. I look at what’s going on, and it makes me a bit nervous. It’s great that so many new voices and creators are getting chances. But I don’t want to see the TV industry end up participating in the kind of arms race we’re seeing in the commercial film world.
I saw [FX president] John Landgraf speak recently, and I think he’s a really smart guy and very thoughtful. He did coin the term “Peak TV,” and it is scary. There are so many people making so many shows. I don’t know how it all gets — to use a tech word — monetized. I just don’t know how everyone justifies spending as much money as they do. I think with a creative process, any time that you are throwing money at something and feeling a sense of urgency…
And basing decisions on fear…
Yeah. And again, I’m talking about the whole industry. It feels like there’s so much money and there’s this rush, and I’m not sure what we’re rushing against. Time, I guess? But there’s this sense that it’s musical chairs, and at a certain point, the music’s going to stop, and you had better have a brand. I think we’re fortunate because we have a brand, and hopefully we’ll tend to that brand and hopefully not do anything to tarnish the brand, but I think that’s what’s happening. When the music stops, what that means — I don’t know, exactly. But I feel like that’s what everyone is racing against.
Canceling “Vinyl” — hard or easy?
Hard, because it means 250 jobs. It’s not something you can take lightly. Even if it’s a show that didn’t necessarily land the way we would have hoped, people put their creative energy and passion into it, so it’s never easy to do that. But it felt like the right thing to do for HBO. So from that perspective, I feel like it was the right decision. But it’s never an easy thing to say no to somebody or tell somebody they’re out of work.