HBO programming chief Casey Bloys gave a really interesting interview to The Hollywood Reporter, talking about the very impressive influence of Big Little Lies and Reese’s role within this:
HBO Boss on ‘Big Little Lies’ Impact, “Earned” Raises and Addressing Pay Parity
When Casey Bloys got his first of two major promotions in early 2016, the HBO executive took a good hard look at the suite of dramas he had inherited and wondered just one thing: Where were all the women?
On the comedy side, where Bloys had been in charge since 2013, he and his team had championed such female-fronted series as Enlightened, Veep, Getting On, Insecure and, of course, Girls. But now the drama lineup that he was suddenly responsible for skewed heavily male, with a mix of series that included True Detective, Game of Thrones and, then, the forthcoming Westworld. “The fact was we hadn’t really had a female-skewing drama since Big Love,” he says, referencing the polygamy hour that ran from 2006-11. “And so we became very interested in diversifying the slate.”
Two years later, much has already changed. In fact, Bloys, who was upped to president of programming later that spring, is coming off a months-long awards season in which his first big female drama, Big Little Lies, swept nearly every category it was in. The accolades followed record ratings and an enviable spot at the center of the cultural conversation — and proceeded significant raises for a cast led by producer-stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who are said to be earning in the $1 million per episode range for season two. “A show like that is a gift to a network,” says Bloys, who credits Witherspoon and Kidman for identifying its potential and bringing it to the network. His boss, chairman and CEO Richard Plepler, lavishes similar praise: “Reese and Nicole had the vision to know what this could become,” he says. “They brought us a jewel and their enthusiasm became infectious, not only with the Big Little Lies team but throughout all of HBO.”
And when the limited-turned-ongoing series returns in 2019, with the original cast plus Oscar winner Meryl Streep, it’ll join a lineup that’s lighter on testosterone — or at least heavier on estrogen. In July, HBO will introduce Sharp Objects, centered on an even more complicated woman played by Amy Adams; and after that, My Brilliant Friend, about a lifelong female friendship. There are others, too, including projects from Misha Green (Underground) and Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley) as well as a second collaboration between Kidman and Big Little Lies’ writer/producer David E. Kelley. Bloys has been similarly focused on moving more women behind the camera, too, with his ratio of female to male writers and directors working its way to 50 percent.
With Big Little Lies back in production, Bloys sat down at the company’s corporate headquarters in New York and talked about those hefty raises, the impact of the Time’s Up movement and how he intends to remain competitive without writing nine-figure producer checks.
One of your execs found herself in hot water last month when she sat on stage at a conference in Israel and said, “From a budget standpoint, going into season two of Big Little Lies without any options in place we’ve been … short of raped.” I’m hoping you can clarify the point that she was trying to make, since it got lost in the drama of her word choice.
Here’s what I will say: obviously it was a really unfortunate statement, not just the choice of words but also the statement because it’s not reflective of how we feel as a network. Let me just say this about Big Little Lies season two. Whatever anybody was paid was 100 percent earned and well worth it. This show was a giant hit for us and for the industry. I know there’s fascination with the negotiations but, listen, they earned it. So, [the comment] was not reflective of how we feel, or how [Francesca Orsi, HBO’s drama chief] feels. And she feels terrible. I know she’s reached out to all the players on the show, and I will say while they were not happy about it they have been incredibly gracious and it actually has led to larger conversations about the choice of the word [raped] and why it’s used.
Will it change the way you go about making deals going forward? As in, will you move away from the one-season contracts?
Not really. Look, Big Little Lies is a unique case. But our business affairs group has been doing this a long time and we tend to do fair deals that people feel good about on both ends and that was absolutely the case here.
This cast, in particular, had been at the forefront of the Time’s Up movement. Curious, how have those ties and the larger movement impacted the way you do business?
One of the things that’s come out of thinking about the movement and some conversations with Reese, who’s really at the forefront, is something we’ve done recently. We’ve proactively gone through all of our shows — in fact, we just finished our process where we went through and made sure that there were no inappropriate disparities in pay; and where there were, if we found any, we corrected it going forward. And that’s is a direct result of the Times Up movement.
In this moment, Big Little Lies feels particularly timely. What’s surprised you most about its success?
What it showed was that there was a place not only on HBO but in the greater TV landscape for shows that showed complex, complicated women. One of the things that would drive me nuts is when people would call a show like this with really talented actresses talking about things that are important to, really, everybody but women specifically in terms of schooling and infidelity and, in this case, domestic abuse, a “guilty pleasure.” Why is a show that’s smart and entertaining and talking about really difficult topics a guilty pleasure? Why dismiss it that way?
How has its success informed your other programming decisions?
It just reinforces some of the bets we’ve already made like Sharp Objects, which we’ve got coming out this summer with Amy Adams. I can’t think of a more complicated female lead. I mean, she’s to the point of self-destruction. There are a lot of celebrated, self-destructive male leads out there, but it’s going be very interesting to see a woman really wrestling with her demons like that. Richard and I have talked a lot about, like, why aren’t there more? Now, obviously there’s a lot of history behind that, people liking men a certain way and women a certain way. But one of the things that I hope that Big Little Lies shows is that you can have complicated female characters and it can not only do well but it can break records and win awards.