Live from Jerusalem, the TV Addict is live blogging from INTV, Israel’s third annual internationsl conference on innovation in television. First up, a conversation with Richard Plepler, Chariman and CEO of HBO.
9:58AM: Plepler calls his entire career a “happy accident.” Credits following his gut rather than make the mistake that most people do, which is making decisions based on what he thinks he’s supposed to do.
10:01AM: After twenty plus years spent in different seats at the table of the HBO executive conference room, Plepler boils down the secret to HBO’s success as listening to the voice of an artist. “Anyone who tells you they knew that THE SOPRANOS, THE WIRE or GAME OF THRONES was going to be a culture phenomenon is full of shit. All we knew that those shows were original voices.” His reaction to David Chase — with whom, after screening the first four episodes of THE SOPRANOS on VHS (!) asked if anyone is going to watch this was, “All I can tell you is that I’ve never seen antyhing like this before.”
10:10PM: After a period of less then steller shows post-SEX AND THE CITY and THE SOPRANOS, Plepler and Entertainment President Michael Lombardo put HBO back on track by betting on the artist. Sighting GAME OF THRONES co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “the didn’t just think about the subject matter, they breathed it.” Said Benioff in an early pitch meeting to Plepler, “There are very few things I could imagine myself doing for the next 10 years of my life and this is one of them.” Same goes for the more recent success with TRUE DETECTIVE. Before Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson even entered the conversation, HBO’s team bet on TRUE DETECTIVE based solely on the strength of the writing.
10:20: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is how Plepler sums up the success of HBO in an increasinly competitive landscape. Recounting a conversation he had with THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST writer/director Andrew Jarecki, Plepler credits HBO’s embrace of the artist that will help the network keep their edge in an era of unprecedented competition from upstarts such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon et al. “HBO’s energy, support, love and respect for the artist is second to none.”
10:28PM: When shown a slide featuring a slew of super fantastic show that are not on HBO (Think: ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, TRANSPARENT) Plepler says, “We cannot have every show!”
10:32PM: So what makes an HBO show? “Brand elevation,” says Plepler. Whether it’s John Oliver, GIRLS or SILICON VALLEY, HBO shows must elevate our brand. “THE NORMAL HEART didn’t do huge ratings, but everyone in the culture knew we had done something special,” said Plepler. “I’m much less concerend with genre and numbers versus delivering the message that our network stands for something special and represents artists.” Case in point, LOOKING. Plepler credits the show to a pitch from an HBO excutive who argued that everytime you see the story of gay life on American television it’s a caricture. LOOKING seeked to create an authenticity that makes people understand the univerality of themes about love, alienation, lonlineess and about trying to find ones self.
10:40: The future of HBO is far more nuanced then streaming versus traditional viewing. “I will remind everybody that every technical evolution — be it cable, sattelite, telco or digital — only expanded our opportunity to reach our customers, It’s not an either or, it’s multi-faceted,” Says Plepler. “Our recent Apple announcment was just adding another dimension to our network. In 10 years, if I’m fortunate enough to be here, the goal is for HBO to be everywhere. Be it cable, satellite, Apple, Amazon, Google or Sony. Are goal is to creante an ease of access for our customes to get HBO in the US and all over the world.”