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HBO Not 'Hung' Up on Decision-Making

While HBO rolls out the marketing push for three summer series it hopes will spark some needed momentum, it is also making decisions about future programming. The network will go ahead with The Wire creator David Simon's post-Katrina drama Treme and is thinking about ending In Treatment.

HBO Programming Group President Michael Lombardo says he hates to think HBO needs a comeback, but concedes the post-Sex and the City, post-Sopranos years may have lacked focus.

“We had unwittingly maneuvered ourselves into a little bit of a box,” he explains. “Our programming started to skew a little ponderous. We are as excited about a show like Treme as we are about Hung, and they're very different shows.”

Treme begins shooting in New Orleans in the fall. The plan is to do 10 episodes for the first season, according to Lombardo.

The future of In Treatment has yet to be decided. Producers and HBO executives will meet this week to discuss the possibility of a third season. The Gabriel Byrne drama attracts a small audience, averaging about 1.6 million viewers. While the show is cheap to produce, a third season would be significantly more expensive. More writers would have to be hired to create scripts, as HBO has now exhausted all of the material from the original Israeli series. And Byrne's rate would likely increase. The actor has talked openly about his fatigue due to the show's arduous shooting schedule.

Lombardo declines to characterize prospects for renewal, but he stresses that In Treatment's passionate fan base is a factor.

HBO is also looking at a legal drama from Oz creator Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura based on Courtroom 302, reporter Steve Bogira's non-fiction book about Chicago criminal court. The project was originally in development as a miniseries but is being reconsidered as a series. The network will also start shooting the pilot for Boardwalk Empire this week in New York.

But for now, HBO executives are banking on a strong summer season with True Blood (starts June 14); Hung, about a well-endowed male escort (June 28); and Entourage (July 12) for some forward momentum.

Marketing 'Hung'

The marketing department at HBO is putting a hefty effort behind Hung, which requires a more nuanced approach than the show’s overtly lurid title would suggest. The concept: down-and-out, middle-aged-guy becomes gigolo.

“Our strategy was to focus on the more unexpected aspects of the story,” said Chris Spadaccini, vice president of advertising and promotion. “Ray [played by Thomas Jane] is becoming a male gigolo because he has to, not because he wants. And we really wanted the audience to empathize with this man who is willing to do whatever it takes to turn his life around.”

So HBO will enlist consumers to help Ray pull himself up by his bootstraps via a Pimp Ray microsite and Facebook contest.

Users create their own ads to help Ray build his client base. The best ad, as voted on by the Facebook community, wins a $10,000 prize.

HBO’s marketing department has created Facebook communities for all of its shows, but this is the first time the network has used the social advertising platform to enlist users in the marketing campaign.

“We’re combining user-generated content and Facebook’s social advertising platform to get consumers involved in actually helping to market a brand,” said Spadaccini.

The initiative will go live June 29 after the show premiers so that users have some context for their ads.
“It’s definitely going to involve some creativity on the part of the consumer,” says Spadaccini. “There will be filters as far as what you can and cannot say. So the consumer is going to have to be creative with copy and use innuendo to get their point across.”