HBO Chief on AI Use in Writing, ‘Succession’ Finale Notes



HBO and Max chief Casey Bloys thinks AI has no place in the creative process at his brands.

“Two things to keep in mind when I say this: One is, remember I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is Steel Town,” Bloys, the chairman and CEO of HBO and Max content, told Variety co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton during a keynote conversation Wednesday at the Variety TV FYC Fest. “So I am very, very aware of what happens when a company does not think about the future or is not aware of the future. But also, I’ve been at HBO for 19 years and I have never tested a pilot to decide whether to pick it up or not. We just don’t use all of the things other places do, it’s just not something we do. So my take on AI, the idea that AI would be involved in any sort of development or the creative process in the kinds of shows that I do, or we do, at HBO, that’s not something I want to be a part of.

“If it does become something — and I hope I don’t sound like a steel executive in the 70s — I just can’t see it,” he continued. “And if it is, I hope to God I’m retired by that point.”

Bloys’ comments come amid the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, which is a result of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ (AMPTP) inability to reach a deal with the union after its contract expired on May 1. One of the key issues the two sides can’t agree on: the use of AI in the writing process.

According to Bloys, people used to pester him and HBO about pivoting to short-form scripted content, saying that was where things were headed, but he fought back. “I think I was right about that. And I think I’m right about this.”

One of Bloys and HBO’s most-prized pieces of long-form scripted content, “Succession,” came to an end May 28, at the decision of its creator, Jesse Armstrong. Ever the creative-focused exec, Bloys says he only gave Armstrong one thing to think about when he told the HBO chief he wanted to conclude the Roy family drama with its fourth season.

“The only advice I gave to Jesse was, ‘Whatever you want to do is what we’ll do. Just think about it, because you do have this amazing cast. It’s lightning in a bottle. So just really, really be sure that it’s time to go,’” Bloys said. “I knew Jesse is an incredibly thoughtful writer and he would naturally go through that process of, ‘Do I see anything here? Do I not see anything here?’ I knew we would end up in the right place, regardless. I know he went back and forth and I think he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t leaving anything on the table. But I trust that he fully felt that that was the right thing.”

And when Bloys first saw the final episode, his suspicions were confirmed that “it was the only way that ‘Succession’ could end.”

“To me, it was a perfect ending,” Bloys said. “If you’re following the creator’s lead, it’s probably a good place to go.”

(While Bloys maintains there was no “winner” in “Succession,” he shares that if anyone did, it was J. Smith-Cameron’s Gerri Kellman, the “most capable” option.)

Bloys would also be on board with continuing the “Succession” saga, should Armstrong ever decide to return to the Roy world with a followup or spinoff series — but he’s not holding his breath on that one.

“If Jesse said to me, ‘I have got to do a Tom and Greg spinoff, I’ve just got to. Creatively, I can’t get out of my head and I have to do it.’ If Jesse wanted to do that, I would follow his lead and say great,” Bloys said. “But I think it was the right decision because there are some shows that naturally lead themselves, a show like ‘House of the Dragon’ coming out of ‘Game of Thrones.’ George [R.R. Martin]’s universe is so huge, spans hundreds of years and many families and there’s battles and civil wars and all of that stuff. That lends itself more logically to spinoffs and trying again. This ones, it’s obviously fun to think about the combinations. But if Jesse’s not feeling it, I’m not going to go down that road.”

Taking the prime “Succession” slot of Sunday 9 p.m. on HBO (and streaming the same time on Max) is “The Idol,” starring Lily-Rose Depp and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye (who also co-created the show alongside “Euphoria” mastermind Sam Levinson.) Before the show even premiered, it had stirred up controversy regarding reshoots and reports of toxic behavior by Levinson — the explicit moments depicted in the first episode only fanned those flames further.

Bloys was ready for this response and embraces it from a creative exec standpoint.

“Obviously, I knew it was going to be controversial,” Bloys says. “I was not necessarily looking at reviews on that show, but it did what I thought it was going to do — it made a splash. It’s been on the air for three days, four days. There was an op-ed in the New York Times. There was another article in the New York Times wondering if it can bring back the erotic thriller and there was a Wall Street Journal article wondering if rat tails were coming back… You want shows to be part of the conversation, you want them to provoke. Maybe not the rat tail one. But it’s doing what we kind of expected and thought it would do.”


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