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HBO Chief: Slavery Drama ‘Confederate’ Is ‘Not Whips and Plantations’

If HBO programming president Casey Bloys could get a redo on last week’s announcement about upcoming drama “Confederate,” he’d take it.

“File this under hindsight is 20-20,” Bloys said Wednesday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills. Bloys faced multiple questions about the new series from “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Picked up to series last week, “Confederate” sparked an immediate backlash over its subject matter — a fictional version of an America where the South successfully seceded from the Union and the institution of slavery thrives.

“Our mistake — HBO’s mistake, not the producers — was the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part.”

Bloys said he realized after the fact that HBO should have had the producers sit with journalists ahead of the announcement to talk in greater depth about their vision for the show. “Richard [Plepler, CEO of HBO] and I had the benefit of sitting with these four producers. We heard why they wanted to do the show, what they were excited about. So we had that context. But I completely understand why somebody reading the press release wouldn’t have that,” Bloys said.

Much of the criticism directed at HBO has been at the potential dangers of portraying modern slavery in a way that might inflame real-life race relations. Bloys insisted that the portrayal will be nuanced.

“The producers have said they’re not looking to do ‘Gone With the Wind’ 2017,” Bloys said. “It’s not whips and plantations. It’s what they imagine a modern day institution of slavery would look like.”

Bloys also urged potential viewers to withhold judgment until seeing the show. “All we can do is ask that people judge the final product of these artists and not what it could be or might be.”

“Confederate” will begin shooting after production wraps on the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” next year.

Bloys also fielded questions on several other HBO series and projects:

• Regarding “Game of Thrones,” Bloys confirmed that no existing characters from the series will appear in any of the four prequel spinoffs currently being developed. As to whether the final season is still on track to air in 2018 or could be delayed until 2019, he said, “I don’t have the answer yet.”

• HBO, Bloys said, is easing back on stand-up specials, despite going ahead with a new one from former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart. Bloys blamed the rising talent fees associated with specials where Netflix has moved aggressively to lock up A-list comics with eight-figure deals. “It’s hard for me to justify exorbitant prices,” Bloys said, adding that if prices come back down “we’ll talk about it.”

• Asked whether it was appropriate to have white actor Peter Dinklage play “Fantasy Island” star Hervé Villechaize in the upcoming film “My Dinner With Hervé,” Bloys said that HBO doesn’t know whether Villechaize is Filipino, as is widely believed. “His brother says they’re not,” Bloys said. Regardless, he added, “the benefit of humanizing someone” who experienced what Villechaize, a little person, experienced, outweighs other concerns.

• Bloys said that five scripts have been completed on “True Detective” season three with Mahershala Ali, but no director has yet been secured.

• Alan Ball’s yet-to-be-titled new series is a family drama with supernatural elements, Bloys said. ” It’s a mix of ‘True Blood’ and ‘Six Feet Under,’ ” he said.

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