Major changes are afoot at HBO that go well beyond bringing Bill Simmons and Jon Stewart in to host new shows. Per Variety, the cable giant’s programming president, Michael Lombardo, will step down after 33 years with the company. Lombardo developed a slew of critical and ratings over the past nine years, including Game of Thrones, Girls, True Blood, Veep, Boardwalk Empire and True Detective’s first season (let’s pretend season 2 never happened, OK, good).
But the tide has turned against HBO recently, with several misfires both on air and that have yet to even premiere. From less-than-stellar performances (Vinyl, The Leftovers) to quick hooks (Togetherness) to projects that stumbled badly while in development (Westworld, what was to be David Fincher’s Utopia) things seem unsteady at best and dire at worst for the longtime leader in the cable world.
There are challengers everywhere, starting with Netflix, which Variety reports came out on top of an April Morgan Stanley survey measuring the preference of consumers regarding the best original content from premium TV or Internet-video subscription services for the first time in six years. Add to that the deluge of options on free cable stations such as AMC and FX and you can see how much pressure HBO is under to continue to deliver.
There are still two years of Game of Thrones left after this one but HBO probably needs to develop something to replace it right now. Two or three somethings, even. Its comedies are still top-shelf as the current seasons of Veep and Silicon Valley will attest. And as far as non-fiction programming goes, it’s tough to beat shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Jinx. It’s safe to assume that both Simmons’s and Stewart’s projects will add to that stable in terms of quality.
Time will tell if Lombardo’s replacement, reportedly series, specials and late-night president Casey Bloys, can restore HBO to being the gold standard of dramatic programming on cable. You can bet the folks who sign the checks are hoping he can, big time.