HBO Exec Addresses Controversial 'Confederate' Series From 'Game Of Thrones' Producers [TCA 2017]

On Wednesday, July 19, HBO made headlines when they announced the new show from Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The news wasn't high anticipation for their follow-up – it was controversy over the show's racially charged concept. Confederate is a dystopian drama about a world in which the South won the Civil War, and slavery still exists in modern day. Addressing the Television Critics Association, Head of Programming Casey Bloys said he expected a volatile reaction and regrets HBO's handling of the press release announcement. However, he explained that creators Weiss, Benioff, Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman have earned his trust.

"Malcolm said it best in one of his interviews," Bloys said. "He said, 'This is weapons grade material we're dealing with.' Everybody understands there is a high degree of difficulty in getting this right. What excites them and us is if you can get it right, there is a real opportunity to advance the racial discussion. If you can draw a line between what we see in the country today with voter suppression, public education, health care and our past, that's an important line to draw. It's a conversation worth having. It is very difficult. They acknowledge there's a high degree of difficulty. We support them. It's a risk worth taking."

Asked how modern day slavery might be portrayed, Bloys added that the institution of slavery will have evolved into a modern incarnation. "The producers have said they're not looking to do Gone with the Wind 2017," Bloys said. "It's not whips and plantations. It's what they imagine a modern day institution of slavery might look like. They haven't written anything so I don't have details beyond that."

HBO new Confederate would be a risk, but Bloys considered this team worth taking the risk. "The bet for us is on our talent," Bloys said, "We have a long history at HBO of betting on our talent. We hope people judge the actual material as opposed to what it could be, should be or might be. We will rise and fall based on the quality of that material. These four writers are at the top of their game and can do anything they want. This is what they're passionate about so I'm going to bet on that."

That said, Bloys wishes he'd taken a more careful approach to the announcement. "I would file this under hindsight is 20/20," Bloys said. "If I could do it over again, our mistake, HBO's mistake, the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part. If I had it to do over again, what we ended up doing after the fact with the four producers, [was to] have them sit with journalists. Richard [Plepler, HBO Chairman] and I had the benefit of sitting with these four producers. We heard why they wanted to do the show, why it was important to them so we had that context. I completely understand somebody reading the press release would not have that at all. If I had it to do again, I would've rolled it out with producers talking on the record so people understand where they're coming from."

Bloys added that the four producers have taken the immediate criticism to heart moving forward. "In a case like this, even if our roll-out wasn't ideal, the response I think is valuable to the producers as they go to write," Bloys said. "Hearing the reactions is invaluable. The key to all of this is the context and hearing from the creators themselves. What we heard was they have a shared vision and shared sensitivity to the material. I think the more people hear from them, the more it makes sense. People still may not like the show or the idea for it, but they can at least hear from the producers why they're doing it. All we can ask is people judge the final product. We assumed the response. All the producers, we assumed it would be controversial. What we realized in retrospect people don't have the benefit of context we have with the producers."