Starz CEO Chris Albrecht scolded TV reporters at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour on Friday after reports of a “feud” between his network and premium cable rival HBO.
This story starts at HBO’s session on Thursday in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, when football comedy Ballers took the stage with star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking questions via satellite. A reporter asked Johnson about Starz’ rival sports show — basketball comedy Survivor’s Remorse — and claimed Starz sent reporters a release noting critics found HBO’s show “mediocre,” and that “Survivor’s Remorse was funnier, better written and an overall better show.”
HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo popped onto the stage to field the question for Johnson. “It’s the first I had heard of it, and when you said it, I was saying, ‘What’s ‘Survivor’s Remorse’?'” Lombardo said, drawing laughs. “And I guess that says it all. Nine million people are watching Ballers. Now you’ve reminded me what it is. Look, some critics loved Ballers. Some didn’t. And at the end of the day, we love when every critic loves something. At the end of the day, we make this for the consumer, and I feel a real vote of confidence from them. It’s an odd marketing tactic … But I don’t think we need to be in a slap-down with Survivor’s Remorse or any show. I think Ballers has sort of started its own ascendancy and path, and it will continue to, as every great show does, get better and richer and deeper.
On Friday, it was Starz turn.
Albrecht — who previously was a programming chief at HBO — was on stage for the executive session. A reporter asked if he had seen HBO’s Ballers.
“You know, I landed in town late last night and I saw some of this nonsense,” Albrecht said. “First, I have nothing but respect and affection for Michael Lombardo. He and I shared a lot of great memories over the years. And shame on whoever framed this question yesterday. [Producers and actors] come up here to talk about their shows, they don’t need to be ambushed by silly questions. I have never seen Ballers, but I assume it’s good because HBO picked it up for a second season. And why would they do that if it wasn’t good? We’re very proud of Survivor’s Remorse. One of our people was pitching the show, maybe a little too ardently, and pointing to comparative reviews of the shows — Metacritic scores. I remember when nobody cared about any wrote about television … There is no feud, certainly. And I’m very serious: These people are up here to talk about their shows. Behave yourselves and please ask appropriate questions, all right?”