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After Albrecht’s Fall at HBO

May 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Whoever succeeds Chris Albrecht at HBO will have large shoes to fill and big challenges to address.

Mr. Albrecht was forced to resign as chairman and CEO of the pay cable network last week after he was jailed because of an altercation with his girlfriend in Las Vegas. The incident followed the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya fight televised via pay-per-view by HBO.

HBO parent company Time Warner named HBO Chief Operating Officer Bill Nelson as interim CEO. Internal candidates for the permanent job include Mr. Nelson, along with Eric Kessler, HBO’s president of sales and marketing; Richard Plepler, executive VP at HBO responsible for strategy and public relations; and Harold%A0;Akselrad, general counsel and executive VP, legal, business affairs and film programming.

The company also is likely to consider candidates from outside HBO.

Unlike Mr. Albrecht, none of the internal CEO candidates is from programming, so the network might need to also name a head of programming. Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment, and Colin Callender, president of HBO Films, would be the top contenders.

HBO is a money machine generating $1.2 billion a year in profits for Time Warner. It has continued to grow as consumers embrace its multiple channels and video-on-demand service.

Critics say the channel hasn’t developed a big hit since “Six Feet Under” and that with “Sex and the City” gone and “The Sopranos” about to get whacked, HBO needs something bigger than its popular current shows “Entourage,” “Big Love” and “The Wire.”

After his arrest, Mr. Albrecht asked for a leave of absence and sent a memo of apology to staffers. In it he said he had been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 13 years.

“Two years ago, I decided I could handle drinking again. Clearly I was wrong,” he said.

A day later, reports surfaced of an earlier incident with another HBO staffer, who received a settlement of several hundred thousand dollars, and Mr. Albrecht was asked to leave.

While Mr. Albrecht’s actions may have recalled Tony Soprano’s in getting abusive with the women in his life, his corporate treatment was more akin to that of radio personality Don Imus.

After Mr. Imus made a racist remark about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, he was suspended, then fired, by NBC Universal, which aired his show on cable, and CBS, which aired his radio program. The firing took place after the drumbeat of public criticism got louder and corporate pressure mounted.

Similarly, the corporate reaction to Mr. Albrecht’s infraction escalated as the press began reporting incidents in his past. As a public company, Time Warner apparently wanted to avoid pressure from the public and shareholders.

Sticking up for Mr. Albrecht was his friend, agent Ari Emanuel. In a blog on the Huffington Post Web site, Mr. Emanuel blamed the press for creating a pattern in Mr. Albrecht’s behavior and portraying HBO’s culture as misogynistic.

“Having worked with HBO a great deal over the years, I can testify that it is not, as has been portrayed in the press, an ‘old boys’ club”—just ask Carolyn Strauss, Sheila Nevins or any of the other high-powered female executives who work there,” Mr. Emanuel wrote.

And he questioned why the culture is not willing to give Mr. Albrecht a second chance, as Mel Gibson has gotten in Hollywood and many high-profile players have gotten in sports.

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