Unlike Tony Soprano’s lieutenants, former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht’s top execs are alive and well at the pay cable channel.
While the lack of a hit to replace “The Sopranos” looks like a problem to some critics, management at HBO got a vote of confidence from parent Time Warner. The company brass put more weight in the fact that the channel continues to increase subscribers and profits, which are estimated at more than $1 billion annually.
Mr. Albrecht’s sudden fall followed his arrest for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend after an HBO-televised championship boxing match in Las Vegas last month. HBO remained fairly confident since then that Time Warner President and CEO Jeff Bewkes, who used to run HBO, would keep the crew together.
Last week, 23-year HBO veteran Bill Nelson, who had been running the network on an interim basis, was officially named chairman and CEO.
Mr. Nelson had been chief operating officer of HBO. He will be joined in top management at the channel by three co-presidents: Harold Akselrad, who will manage legal and business affairs, film acquisition and HBO’s technology groups and will continue as general counsel; Eric Kessler, who will oversee marketing and worldwide distribution of HBO networks and content; and Richard Plepler, who will be responsible for HBO’s programming and corporate communications.
Michael Lombardo was promoted to president, Programming Group and West Coast Operations. Previously executive vice president, business affairs, production and programming, Mr. Lombardo will report to Mr. Plepler. Reporting to Mr. Lombardo will be Colin Callender, president, HBO Films; Ross Greenburg, president, HBO Sports; Sheila Nevins, president, HBO Documentaries & Family; and Carolyn Strauss, president, HBO Entertainment.
During Mr. Albrecht’s term as CEO, which began in 2002, HBO increased its total number of subscribers from 26.2 million to 28.7 million, according to SNL Kagan Research.
It is hard to tell how those figures will be affected by the end of “The Sopranos,” but the management team has been around long enough to recall the same question being asked when “The Larry Sanders Show” went off the air in 1998.
While premieres of “Sopranos” episodes draw far more viewers than any other show on the network—the penultimate episodes drew 8 million viewers, compared with 3.4 million for “Entourage,” which follows—HBO has always said it was impossible to tie subscriber acquisition to the program.
The show has also brought profit to HBO in the form of a $2.5 million-per-episode off-network sale to A&E, which began airing reruns of the show on basic cable this year, and through DVD and international sales.
While HBO has not replaced “The Sopranos,” no other television network has either. HBO has a stable of respected series including “Entourage,” “Big Love,” “The Wire” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It also wins Emmys year in and year out for its original movies and documentaries.
“HBO should continue to thrive in the original programming arena without ‘The Sopranos,’” said Deana Myers, analyst at SNL Kagan. “Will they ever find another ‘Sopranos’? It will be tough in today’s market when you have so many competitors—Showtime, basic cable nets and even broadcast nets—doing some pretty edgy original series.”