In the wake of allegations that his division used fake Twitter accounts to undermine TV critics posting tepid reviews of HBO programming, network chief executive Casey Bloys addressed the claim during a meeting with the press on Thursday.
At a presentation of HBO’s 2024 content slate, Bloys cast the Twitter accounts as part of a pandemic era “dumb idea.”
“For those of you who know me, you know that I am a programming executive, very, very passionate about the shows that we decided to do, and the people who do them and the people who work on them, I want the shows to be great,” Bloys said, adding: “So when you think of that mindset, and then think of 2020 and 2021. I’m home working from home, spending an unhealthy amount of time scrolling through Twitter. And I came up with a very, very dumb idea to vent my frustration.”
The HBO chief elaborated: “Obviously, six tweets over a year and a half is not very effective. But I do apologize to the people who were mentioned in the leaked email, texts. Obviously, nobody wants to be part of a story that they had nothing to do it. But as also, as many of you know, I have progressed over the past couple of years and using DM so now when I take issue with something in review, or take issue with something I see I DM many of you and many of you are gracious enough to engage with me back and forth.”
The allegations, first reported by Rolling Stone, were made by ex-HBO executive assistant Sully Temori in a lawsuit filed in July against Kathleen McCaffrey, HBO’s senior vice president of drama programming, and Francesca Orsi, HBO’s head of drama. He sued as a John Doe in Los Angeles Superior Court in July, alleging he was harassed over his disability and sexual orientation. The complaint — which includes claims for harassment, discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination — also names The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) and two other executive producers on The Idol, who allegedly bullied Temori in an effort to push him out of his job.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, HBO didn’t challenge claims that Bloys, the network’s then-president of original programming, and McCaffrey directed Temori to post from fake accounts, with the aim of undermining high-profile critics, as well as anonymous commenters on articles.
“HBO intends to vigorously defend against Mr. Temori’s allegations,” a spokesperson said. “We are not going to comment on select exchanges between programmers and errant tweets.”
The cover Twitter assignment isn’t mentioned in Temori’s complaint, which doesn’t name Bloys, but he accused HBO executives of assigning him “menial tasks” unrelated to his position. A source familiar with the matter told The Hollywood Reporter there are six tweets at issue.
According to a review of the messages by Rolling Stone, Temori was asked to create the fake accounts in June 2020 at the direction of McCaffrey. She allegedly told him that Bloys was “obsessed with Twitter” and “always wants to pick a fight” on the platform. “Is there a way to create a dummy account that can’t be traced to us to do his bidding,” wrote McCaffrey, who added that Bloys “always texts me asking me to find friends to reply.”
In one instance, Temori was told to respond to Rolling Stone chief TV critic Alan Sepinwall 2.5-star review of Joss Whedon sci-fi drama The Nevers.
“He’s mad at Alan Sepinwall,” McCaffrey, who was referring to Bloys, texted Temori. “Can our secret operative please tweet at Alan’s review: ‘Alan is always predictably safe and scared in his opinions.’”
According to Rolling Stone, an account under the name of Kelly Shepherd, who called herself a “Texas mom and herbalist,” replied to Sepinwall’s review with the response from Bloys. The account has since been deleted.
Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk and New York Times chief TV critic James Poniewozik were also targets of Bloys’ psy-op, which included firing back at commenters on Deadline articles.
In response to a user writing that Run’s cancellation “harshly unveils Bloys-era cynicism of HBO development,” the exec was allegedly incensed. He wrote to McCaffrey, “How dare someone write that!!” I want to say something along the lines of ‘lol ok they are just counting their Emmys’ or something like that!?” He also suggested, “Maybe we say we must have passed on their development and they are bitter?”