TROUBLE CITY

THUD: ADIOS, ALBRECHT

THUDBrendan M. LeonardComment

THUDSince I’ve been writing this column, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a weekly feature called “The Dumbest Person In Television” where I single out a character, actor, personality, or behind-the-scenes talent who has done something incredibly stupid and/or pissed me off during the week. 

Like during American Idol Gives Back, when Simon and Seacrest went to Africa and the cameras showed this really disturbing/despicable scene of Cowell totally blowing off someone he was talking to because he couldn’t handle the reality of it. Or when Shonda Rhimes reached into her bag of tricks last week on Grey’s Anatomy to pull out The Slap Heard ‘Round Seattle, also known as The Worst Act of Character Assassination Since Weird Mean Leo from Season Six of The West Wing. (Although I hear she really topped herself last night with that “BANNED FROM THE FUNERAL” shit.) It would be like Keith Olbermann’s “The Worst Person In The World,” but not as funny and with more musical theatre jokes – which is probably why I decided not to do it. 

However, if I did decide to do “The Dumbest Person In Television,” HBO Chief Executive Chris Albrecht would certainly top this week’s list. Excuse me, ex-HBO Chief Executive Chris Albrecht, who was fired/resigned from the top spot at the cable network, after his Sunday arrest for assault in Las Vegas. Albrecht had been at HBO since 1985, and Chief Executive since 2002. 

My personal feelings about people who abuse women and children aside (as Albrecht was charged with choking his girlfriend and dragging her across a parking lot), from a business and creative standpoint, this is both the best and the worst decision in the world for HBO. 

The worst: As we’ve reported, HBO is fast approaching a period of transition. Although Albrecht has only been chief executive for five years, he’s widely credited with being the guy who pushed to bring The Sopranos, Sex in the City, and Six Feet Under to HBO –- and it was the breakthrough success of The Sopranos and Sex that helped make the cable network the dramatic programmer to beat, as well as leaving a lasting influence on popular culture and television. 

But those three shows I just mentioned – as well as Deadwood, Rome, Carnivale, and The Wire, all of which premiered during Albrecht’s tenure – have either gone off the air or are ending within the next season. HBO has a number of new projects in the works – including John From Cincinatti, a surf noir show from Deadwood’s David Milch, and True Blood, a vampire series from Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball – but it remains to be seen whether these series will have the same commercial appeal that has made HBO the one to beat. I was hoping that Albrecht would stick around for this next stage – and I definitely think firing your chief executive during such a time of transition is a financially risky move.

Still, I completely agree with the critics who say in a decade or so, we’ll name Albrecht alongside great executives and programmers like Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff, men who cared about what television could do, not just how much money they could make. The end of The Sopranos marks an end of an era for HBO. 

The best: It is the end of an era, which means that this firing – while shocking to everyone at HBO – could not have come at a better time. Albrecht is so closely associated with these shows I’ve been mentioning that it seems like new HBO programming is perpetually living under the shadow of Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw. A change could be just what the network needs at this point, someone to come in during the transition, and to shepherd in the next round of classic series on a show that’s given us so many over the last twenty years – from Larry Sanders through The Wire. 

So while Albrecht and HBO have been known for letting creators do their own thing, the network has also gotten punchy about canceling series before they have a chance to complete the stories they want to tell – Deadwood and Carnivale being two glaring examples, so I would hope that whoever HBO chooses to succeed Albrecht continues to allow creators the kind of freedom that put HBO on the map to begin with. (Although I can almost guarantee you we will never see those Deadwood tv movies they’ve been promising, now, because executives very rarely like to bring back or give credit to programming developed by the previous guy.)