Internal drama at HBO -- With a CEO and Tony Soprano on the way out, the network looks to rebuild

By Josh Wolk
Updated May 18, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

With The Sopranos set to sign off June 10, HBO knew it had a big programming hole to fill. But the network had no idea that an even bigger chasm would be opening up right under its feet: On May 9, HBO’s chairman and CEO of nearly five years, Chris Albrecht, resigned in the wake of his May 6 arrest for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in Las Vegas. (He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery on May 11.)

Even before the exec’s sudden exit, the network was facing a period of transition: When Sopranos wraps, the schedule will be left with several critical favorites — Entourage, currently its second-highest-rated scripted show with 5.7 million viewers; Big Love, back June 11; Curb Your Enthusiasm, back this fall; and The Wire, returning in ’08 — but no Mob-size ratings hits. That said, HBO insists Albrecht’s resignation won’t hurt its development momentum, as the execs in charge of original programming, films, sports, and docs are remaining in their posts. ”In terms of [the team] he’s built,” says HBO Entertainment president Carolyn Strauss, ”he can be as proud of that as the programming.”

The pay cabler has already begun to look ahead, announcing a slate of new series, miniseries (The Pacific, a WWII drama produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg), and pilots from exec producers J.J. Abrams and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. ”We’re obviously in a state of sadness,” says Strauss of Albrecht’s departure. ”But we’re positioned to do very well here.”

On Deck
A look at three of HBO’s noteworthy new series

John From Cincinnati
Deadwood creator David Milch’s surf noir (with Bruce Greenwood and Rebecca De Mornay) debuts June 10.

Flight of the Conchords
A comedy starring a musical duo from New Zealand. Think Tenacious D on sheep fumes. (Debuts June 17.)

12 Miles of Bad Road
Lily Tomlin and Mary Kay Place send up Dallas’ superrich elite in this sitcom expected next year.