LOS ANGELES—HBO had a banner day today, with a whopping 99 Emmy nominations. But the network is more concerned about keeping its subscribers happy, not Emmy voters. Speaking to reporters today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo unveiled their strategy to keep the premium network’s most popular shows rolling along—and their subscribers (114 million worldwide, which generated $4.9 billion in revenue last year, plus countless others who watch HBO Go via shared passwords)—eagerly coming back for more.
HBO’s most successful series—its fourth season averaged 18.6 million viewers across all platforms which today earned 19 nominations, more than any other show—has already been renewed for two more seasons. Fans have been fretting that author George R.R. Martin won’t finish the book series Game of Thrones is based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, before production catches up after next season (the seven-book series began in 1996, but only five novels have been written so far). But “we’re not concerned about it,” said Lombardo. “We’re not off on our own. George is an integral part of the creative team on this.” Added Plepler, “Our line to George is, ‘You keep writing, and we’ll keep making the show.’” While the series has been renewed for two more seasons, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss envision a seven-season run. “As long as David and Dan are in as they are, we’re happy,” said Lombardo. And while Martin has floated the idea of wrapping up the series with a movie, HBO seems to have no intentions of letting their prized property go. “There are no conversations now,” said Lombardo.
For season two, creator Nic Pizzolatto is working on a new concept with new actors and characters to fill Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s shoes. So far Pizzolatto has written scripts for the season’s first two episodes, which are “more exciting than the first season,” said Lombardo. So who will step in for McConaughey and Harrelson? “We’re going to do the next season with puppets,” joked Lombardo. But seriously, those memes suggesting season two pairings that have plastered the Internet for the past several months are about to come to an end. A season two casting announcement will be made “in the next week,” said Lombardo, adding “I think you’ll be pleased… they will be well-known names.”
While the long-running comedy—which isn’t renewed until Larry David comes up with an idea for a new season—has been MIA since airing its eighth season in 2011, it isn’t dead yet. Lombardo recently ran into David and asked if the network should close the book on the show, to which David replied, “No no no no!” Added Lombardo, “As long as he’s still thinking about it, we have a place for him.”
HBO is bringing three dramas to a close over the next several months: True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and The Newsroom. “We think the right thing is to end with creative integrity so that the viewer and creator feels satisfied,” said Lombardo, who admitted that HBO made “a mistake” in canceling Deadwood after three seasons, before the story’s natural end, which angered viewers.
When looking for new series, the execs don’t target a specific genre: they don’t specifically seek out a horror series, or an ensemble comedy. “Our job is to respond to fresh ideas and fresh voices,” said Lombardo. “I want good shows!” One possibility: reteaming with Sopranos creator David Chase, who has been developing a series about old-time Hollywood for four years now at the network. “When he’s ready to come in,” said Lombardo, “we’re ready to talk.”