HBO’s Richard Plepler on ‘Confederate’ Controversy: ‘We Screwed Up’

Richard Plepler
Charles Sykes/AP

The controversy surrounding HBO’s forthcoming series “Confederate” is the result of a public-relations error, according to the premium channel’s CEO Richard Plepler.

“We screwed up in an important way,” Plepler  said Tuesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles. Echoing comments made in July at the TCA press tour by HBO programming president Casey Bloys, Plepler added that the announcement regarding the series order for “Confederate” — from “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, about a fictional world in which the South won the Civil War and slavery thrives in America — lacked the proper context to allow the thinking behind the project to be fully understood.

“Where we screwed up was we tried to announce a complicated subject in a press release of three paragraphs,” Plepler said. “What we should have done is we should have had the creative team sit down with a room full of thoughtful reporters, engage in a Q&A. And when we finish ‘Thrones,’ and when they begin to put pen to paper, and when they form and put meat on the bones of this idea, we will do exactly that. I would say a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots, and that’s kind of what happened here.”

Plepler, interviewed alongside Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom by Vanity Fair’s Krista Smith, also spoke about the unprecedented level of competition that television programmers face as companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and now Apple pour money into original-series development.

“If you imagined even five years ago, let alone 10, that we would be looking out at this many content creators throwing this much money at creative content, making the degree of difficulty that much harder and the margin of error that much smaller, I would have said to you, ‘Eh, probably unlikely,'” Plepler said, pointing to Amazon and Apple’s entrance into the fray as having been particularly tough to anticipate.

Systrom, whose company is owned by Facebook, spoke about the need for social-media to root out the type of propaganda that Russia used to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“In all honesty, every single tech company needs to be worried about this,” Systrom said. “We need to dig, and we need to find out what’s going on, and it’s the right of every single person in this room and every single person in America to know.”