With no clear heir apparent, the programming reins were handed to Plepler, who had spent the bulk of his lengthy HBO tenure as the in-house PR guy, and Lombardo, who had come up through the network's business affairs division and had even less creative experience.
But it wasn't until the two settled into their new positions — the former as co-president, the latter his head of programming — that they fully appreciated the mess they'd inherited.
"If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort.
If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary," critic Ginia Bellafante wrote when the series premiered in April 2011, asking at one point, "What is not only has become the biggest show in HBO's history, delivering a weekly audience of 19.1 million viewers, but also a calling card for the network, with the vast majority of critics lavishing it with praise.
"There is no doubt that Richard's partners" — the cable companies — "didn't want him to do it.
And he did it anyway." Welcome to HBO's next chapter, the equal parts critical, aggressive and altogether risky bid to court the next generation of subscribers.
(Awards remain elusive, a sore spot for HBO executives for whom Emmys still are key.) 's Gillian Flynn).
The noisier, the better, suggests HBO's drama chief Michael Ellenberg, who says of the crowded landscape, "Your biggest fear is that you put something out there and no one gives a shit." But mounting that next batch of would-be blockbusters won't come easy.
"For right now," the CEO said, "we have the right model for our business." The comment echoed one that his boss, Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes, had made on an earnings call a month earlier: "We don't think it makes sense." Behind closed doors in Seattle, however, a growing team of engineers was hard at work on the very product being denied.Unlike so many of the channels rushing toward an on-demand future — CBS announced its stand-alone service a day after Now — HBO is uniquely positioned for a brave new broadband world.For one thing, it has proved it knows how to make shows people will pay to watch, particularly now, as the network is enjoying a second renaissance that rivals the , have tapped the cultural zeitgeist, making HBO the envy of Netflix — not the other way around.On June 21, HBO will add a pair of testosterone-fueled new editions — Dwayne Johnson's sports dramedy that the network is in talks for a major multipart deal with the biggest media personality in sports (more on that later)."This is the most exciting inflection point in the history of our company," says Plepler as we sit down for dinner at The Peninsula hotel during one of his frequent trips west in late May; across the street, at The Beverly Hilton, his latest batch of shows, led by , was dominating the Critics' Choice TV Awards.