A bit of monumental, if not totally surprising news came out of HBO late this Friday afternoon. HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo, who has been with the pay cable network for over three decades, is stepping down from his post, marking a significant shift at the top of the TV giant’s creative chain. During Lombardo’s time with the network—nine years of which was spent as programming president—he witnessed and helped to spur the evolution of the network from a place for premium movies to a network that also showcased top tier original programming, beginning with series like The Larry Sanders Show and Oz in the mid 90s before exploding with shows like Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Six Feet Under.
Lombardo’s exit is huge, but not a shock. HBO has been in the midst of quite possibly its greatest creative drought since that initial boom, as a series of costly misfires and production problems left the network with only one recurring drama series left on air—Game of Thrones. Last year, the network scrapped the costly miniseries Lewis & Clark in the middle of production, firing the director and opting to start from scratch. Then two projects in development with David Fincher, including a half-hour comedy about the rise of the music video era, fell through after Fincher and the network butted heads over budget. The comedy already had five episodes in the can and Fincher was gearing up to helm the drama series Utopia, but both fell apart under Lombardo’s watch. And more recently, the highly anticipated sci-fi Western Westworld halted production to attend to script issues, postponing that show’s planned Q1/Q2 2016 debut.
As if that wasn’t enough, the second season of True Detective suffered a critical shellacking as showrunner Nic Pizzolatto was seemingly given too much creative control, and the insanely expensive drama series Vinyl debuted early this year to lackluster reception and response. But with the low-rated The Leftovers gearing up for its final season and True Detective Season 3 in indefinite stasis, HBO pretty much had no choice but to renew Vinyl—although not without ousting creator/showrunner Terence Winter in an effort to right the ship for Season 2.
So yeah, HBO’s had a really rough year. Per Variety, Lombardo was not pushed out and had been considering stepping down for some time, adding that he’s likely to work out a production pact with the network to continue to develop material. But this marks a significant sea change at HBO and it’ll be interesting to see who takes Lombardo’s place. While the network has struggled as of late, a huge amount of credit is due to Lombardo for his nine-year reign at the top, where he spearheaded such hits as True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Eastbound & Down, and of course True Detective. He always kept things interesting with shows like Looking, The Newsroom, and Luck, even if they didn’t quite crack the zeitgeist.
On the drama side HBO has some promising new shows in the works aside from Westworld, including David Simon’s 1970s porn-centric series The Deuce and the Amy Adams-fronted Sharp Objects, both of which have been ordered to series. It’s a shame that Fincher’s shows never came to fruition and that Vinyl isn’t very good, but Lombardo’s legacy will surely live on, and his replacement has big shoes to fill despite these high profile disappointments.