The HBO CEO and chairman, Casey Bloys, has apologised for tasking employees with creating fake Twitter accounts to attack TV critics.
Bloys was responding to a bombshell Rolling Stone report that referenced alleged text messages between himself and Kathleen McCaffrey, HBO’s senior vice-president of drama programming. In six conversations, the pair discussed a “secret army” that could respond to TV critics who gave HBO shows a negative review.
During a presentation for HBO and Max’s upcoming programming, Bloys addressed the allegations. “For those of you who know me, you know that I am a programming executive very, very passionate about the shows that we decide to do.” he said, according to Variety. “And the people who do them and the people who work on them. I want the shows to be great. I want people to love them. I want you all to love them. It’s very important to me what you all think of the shows. When you think about that, and then think of 2020 and 2021, I’m working from home and doing an unhealthy amount of scrolling through Twitter. And I come up with a very, very dumb idea to vent my frustration.”
He admitted that six tweets over an 18-month period was “not very effective” but apologised to anyone who had been involved. “Obviously, nobody wants to be part of a story that they have nothing to do with,” he said. But also, as many of you know, I have progressed over the past couple of years to using DMs. So now, when I take issue with something in a review, or take issue with something I see, many of you are gracious enough to engage with me in a back and forth and I think that is a probably a much healthier way to go about this.”
The original Rolling Stone story detailed a 2022 incident involving the Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk when she subtweeted a comment about Perry Mason: “Dear prestige TV. Please find some way to communicate male trauma besides showing me a flashback to the hero’s memories of trench warfare.”
Bloys was furious and had reportedly drafted a response over text for a former employee, Sully Temori, to tweet: “A somewhat elitist take. Is there anything more traumatic for men (and now women) than fighting in a war. Sorry if that seems too convenient for you.” The decision was ultimately made not to send it but the idea was crafted to use this method in the future.
Temori is filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against HBO. He claimed he was harassed and faced discrimination after a mental health diagnosis. In a statement, HBO said it “intends to vigorously defend against Mr Temori’s allegations”.
Text messages also reference Joss Whedon’s fantasy series The Nevers and a middling review by the Rolling Stone critic Alan Sepinwall. A fake account, a “vegan Texan mom” called Kelly, sent a reply to him and also to a negative tweet about the show from James Poniewozik, the New York Times TV critic. McCaffrey allegedly texted about the critics: “I fucking hate these people, yes.”
Sepinwall was also attacked for his thoughts on Mare of Easttown. At the time, McCaffrey wrote: “His highness needs another one.” When asked for comment, Sepinwall said: “I’m surprised HBO would even bother with this.”
Bloys also instructed fake comments to be posted in the reply section of Deadline stories. Temori’s lawyer called the culture at HBO “very petty”.
Temori’s lawsuit also names Abel “the Weeknd” Tesfaye and two producers for The Idol, for which he also worked as a script coordinator. He claims similar harassment and discriminatory behaviour also happened there.