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Amid the Peaks, A Few Peeks At HBO’s New Programming Chief

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The Banff World Media Festival was the first public showing for Casey Bloys since he was promoted to HBO programming president last month. Bloys actually played a support role in his panel, interviewing Jenni Konner, showrunner on Girls, in what was dubbed a comedy “master class.” Yet the Q&A revealed insights into Bloys’ style in managing creatives, particularly when Konner turned the tables on her interlocutor.

The reading one gets on Bloys from those who have produced shows under his watch is a manager who, true to HBO’s style, lets those creatives do their thing—weighing in with occasional notes, but ultimately trusting respected producers to do what’s best for the show.

“He comes in, gives one note, and leaves,” said Konner. “[He’s] got stuff to do!”

Konner shared the story of one Bloys note that she did not take to heart. In season 3, Bloys suggested viewers would tire of having the character Jessa (Jemima Kirke) in rehab for several episodes. Konner essentially ignored the suggestion, but speaking at Banff, she admitted Bloys’ call was correct.

Konner, who described HBO as “more of a studio than a network,” also noted how Bloys and Michael Lombardo, recently departed programming president, pushed Girls’ brass to produce a sixth season.

Appearing youthful and relaxed, Bloys mentioned a moment early in the Girls cycle when executive producer Judd Apatow said, “I’m gonna cast the people I want.” He may have expected some pushback, but Bloys’ response was, “I know.”

Bloys, who joined HBO in 2004, was promoted to president of comedy and drama series, late-night and specials in January, then to programming president in May.

The discussion in Banff veered toward female directors, Konner noting that she’ll direct the series finale of Girls. Konner asked Bloys what he was doing to address the lack of female directors in television. Bloys calmly noted that the two series teased with clips during the panel—Divorce, created by Sharon Horgan and with Sarah Jessica Parker starring and producing; and Insecure, from Issa Rae, and directed by Melina Matsoukas—are shepherded by female creatives. “That’s what I’m doing,” a playfully defiant Bloys shot back.

HBO looks for writer/director/performers behind comedy pitches. “We try to get at least two of the three,” Bloys said. “The tone is so specific—it’s good for someone to control at least two of those things.”

While HBO has ceded some of its cultural prestige to Netflix, Showtime and other outlets birthing ambitious originals, many attendees at the mountain resort festival were eager to get a peek inside the network machinery. Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO, offered insights in a keynote interview. Attract the top auteurs by giving them creative freedom, he said, and they will spread the word to other elite producers. Also: It’s important to offer a wide range of content on a multitude of platforms.

Plepler spoke of a “restless energy” within HBO. “For an hour after the Emmys, we pat ourselves on the back,” he said. “But we’re in the office the next day, saying, ‘What’s next?” For Bloys, “what’s next” will be job one.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.