HBO’s CEO Casey Bloys apologized to a room of journalists following a Rolling Stone report that he instructed staffers to create fake social media accounts to troll TV critics who gave poor reviews to HBO shows.
During a press event Thursday to unveil HBO and Max’s programming slate for 2024, Bloys addressed members of the media — some of whom being the very critics he trolled — to confess that during the pandemic he spent an “unhealthy amount of time” on Twitter when he discussed using a “secret army” to hit back at reviewers.
“It’s very important to me what you all think of the shows,” Bloys said. “When you think about that, and then think of 2020 and 2021, I’m working from home and doing an unhealthy amount of time scrolling through Twitter. And I came up with a very, very dumb idea to vent my frustration.”
“Obviously, six tweets over a year and a half is not very effective,” Bloys added. “But I do apologize to the people who were mentioned in the leaked emails, texts. Obviously, nobody wants to be part of the story that they have nothing to do with. 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, I see many of you, and 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.”
On Wednesday, Rolling Stone reported that in at least six instances between June 2020 and April 2021, Bloys and Kathleen McCaffrey, HBO’s senior vice president of drama programming, discussed using a “secret army” to respond to TV critics on social media and anonymous posters on Deadline articles, according to text exchanges reviewed by Rolling Stone.
At Bloys’ request, according to the messages, he wanted someone to respond to Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk for a tweet about Perry Mason; Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall for his reviews of The Nevers and Mare of Easttown, and The New York Times’ James Poniewozik and Mike Hale for commentary on The Nevers.
“Who can go on a mission,” Bloys asked McCaffrey in June 2020, according to the messages, adding that they needed to find a “mole” at “arms length” from the HBO executive team to respond to VanArendonk’s tweet. “We just need a random to make the point and make her feel bad.”
But also, as many of you know, I have progressed over the past couple of years to using DMs…
“Casey is looking for a tweeter … he’s mad at Alan Sepinwall,” McCaffrey texted in April 2021. “Can our secret operative please tweet at Alan’s review: ‘Alan is always predictably safe and scared in his opinions.’ And then we have to delete this chain right? Omg I just got scared lol.”
That day, a newly created account under the name of Kelly Shepherd, a self-described Texas mom and herbalist, replied to Sepinwall’s tweet about his review, repeating the sentiment McCaffrey expressed.
Bloys also instructed his juniors to create accounts to reply to anonymous Deadline comments in July 2020, according to the texts. “How dare someone write that!!” Bloys texted McCaffrey after seeing an anonymous user say Run “wasn’t a good show and harshly unveils Bloys-era cynicism of HBO development. “I want to say something along the lines of ‘lol ok they are just counting their Emmys’ or something like that!?” Later he suggested, “Maybe we say we must have passed on their development and they are bitter?”
The messages are being prepared as evidence in former HBO employee Sully Temori’s wrongful termination lawsuit against HBO; McCaffrey; Francesca Orsi, HBO’s head of drama; as well as Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and two producers for The Idol. The lawsuit — which was filed in July in Los Angeles Superior Court — alleges Temori was harassed and faced retaliation and discrimination after disclosing a mental health diagnosis to his bosses, as well as was tasked with duties unrelated to work, such as creating fake online accounts to respond to critics.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Temori’s attorney, Michael Martinez, says the texts serve as an example of the “very petty” company culture that eventually turned on his client. “First and foremost, I think [this lawsuit] is about HBO’s culture and how it fosters a dynamic of ongoing harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” Martinez says. “They joke about people outside of HBO, they joke about people within HBO… You suffer through some bullying until you can’t suffer anymore.”
HBO said in a statement that it “intends to vigorously defend against Mr. Temori’s allegations. We look forward to a full and fair resolution of this dispute. In the meantime, we wish Mr. Temori, a former HBO employee, well in his future endeavors.”
Bloys must have found some humor in the report and the ensuing coverage, liking a tweet from a parody account for Carol Lombardini, the President of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP). The account has been poking fun at studio executives and the AMPTP throughout the SAG-AFTRA strike and fessed up that they were secretly Bloys. “Don’t know how to tell you this but the truth is i’m not the REAL carol lombardini. i’m actually hbo CEO casey bloys.”