Sticks And Stones, Gentlemen. You Know That Cuts Both Ways, Right?

Boy, our old friend Yosemite Zas sure can pick a clickbaitable posse, can’t he?

Mere months after we learned exactly how petty and juvenile the now-former head of CNN Chris Licht was in his quest for success after Tim Alberta of THE ATLANTIC revealed such details, we got an unexpectedly juicy bombshell  yesterday from ROLLING STONE’s Cheyenne Roundtree, which THE WRAP’s Kayla Cobb dutifully unpacked for those unwilling or unable to pay for the details:

HBO‘s Casey Bloys is due to speak to reporters on Thursday about the allegations that he orchestrated the use of burner Twitter accounts to argue with critics online. 

The alleged practice was unearthed by Rolling Stone in a new article that involves an ongoing wrongful termination dispute. According to text exchanges that were reviewed by the publication, during at least six instances that occurred between June 2020 and April 2021, Bloys and senior vice president of programming Kathleen McCaffrey used what they referred to as a “secret army” to argue with TV critics both on Twitter and in the comments sections of Hollywood trade publications such as Deadline.

All of the comments had to do with either HBO’s programming or leadership. A review of Joss Whedon’s “The Nevers,” the cancellation of Vicky Jones’ “Run,” stray thoughts on Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald’s “Perry Mason” and the announcement of Bridgett Everett’s “Somebody Somewhere” were among the projects mentioned by these burner accounts, according to the Rolling Stone article.

Some of the TV critics who were targeted included the New York Times’ James Poniewozik and Mike Hale, Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall and Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk.

And as was the case in some other recent stories involving Warner Brothers executive talent, such as those that proliferated during the cooped-up summer of 2020 that accelerated the demise of the one-time crown jewel of daytime talk Ellen DeGeneres, this story relied heavily on the testimony and claims of disgruntled staffers.  In Bloys’ case, there’s one particularly ticked off person that has provided much of the fodder for Roundtree’s reporting, as Cobb further detailed:

The messages are part of a large batch of material from a wrongful termination lawsuit that is set to be filed. The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of Sully Temori, a previous temp for the company who became an executive assistant in 2017. The suit will state that Temori was harassed and faced retaliation and discrimination after disclosing his mental health diagnosis to his bosses.

It also alleges that Temori was asked to perform tasks that were not related to his job. That’s where the tweets and comments come into play.

Chris Murphy of VANITY FAIR broke through the paywall to provide his readers with some of the details contained in Temori’s allegations:

Temori’s complaint claims that McCaffrey asked him to create fake accounts in 2020. Per texts being prepared for the complaint and reviewed by Rolling Stone, McCaffrey said that Bloys was “obsessed with Twitter,” and “always wants to pick a fight on Twitter.”  “He always texts me asking me to find friends to reply,” reads one of the messages from McCaffrey, according to Rolling Stone. “Is there a way to create a dummy account that can’t be traced to us to do his bidding?”  As Rolling Stone reports, in 2020, when Bloys was HBO’s president of original programming, he allegedly became upset when Vulture television critic Kathryn VanArendonk tweeted about HBO’s Perry Mason, then in its first season. Bloys then reportedly ordered some staffers to “go on a mission” and fire back at VanArendonk. According to text messages reviewed by Rolling Stone, Bloys texted VanArendonk’s tweet to McCaffrey with an idea for a rebuttal. “Maybe a Twitter user should tweet that that’s a pretty blithe response to what soldiers legitimately go through on [the] battlefield,” read Bloys’s text. “Do you have a secret handle? Couldn’t we say especially given that it’s D-Day to dismiss a soldier’s experience like that seems pretty disrespectful…this must be answered!”  Bloys reportedly went on to text McCaffrey that they needed to find a “mole” at “arms length” from HBO’s executive team who was ready and willing to take on VanArendonk. Rolling Stone reported that the text exchange between Bloys and McCaffrey is one of six exchanges discussing firing back at Twitter critics that occurred between June 2020 and April 2021. 

Look, an awful lot of people were overly obsessed with social media during 2020, with little else for many to do except rot in their houses wearing face diapers and waving to passers-by.  And if indeed what even some of what Temori has claimed is true, he wouldn’t be the first network executive to demonstrate such disdain for anyone calling their babies ugly.  Heck, I’ve worked for a couple myself, one of which was one of Bloys’ predecessors.  They may not have been quite as militaristic about how they confronted what they considered to be bourgeois and tasteless masses, but I can assure you that one in particular has caught ire similar to that which Murphy reports was leveled at one veteran writer:

In another incident reported by Rolling Stone, Bloys reportedly targeted Rolling Stone chief TV critic Alan Sepinwall after he gave Joss Whedon’s widely panned sci-fi show The Nevers a middling review. “Casey [Bloys] is looking for a tweeter…he’s mad at Alan Sepinwall,” McCaffrey allegedly texted Temori. “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.”

In one case that I personally witnessed, Sepinwall, at the time the critic for the Newark-based STAR-LEDGER, was called out as “a putz from Jersey”.  And I’ll share this much: the show in question at the time was a lot better received by the public, let alone the press, than was THE NEVERS.

For the moment, HBO is keeping mum, and Bloys will reportedly address this allegations during a previously planned press conference that will detail some of his 2024 slate, assuming some of the shows being highlighted ever get produced.  We are still in the midst of an actors’ strike, and let’s just say that the new season of THE GILDED AGE isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  So the timing of Roundtree’s article, let alone Temori’s lawsuit, is a bit eyebrow-raising.

But as Chris Licht soon learned, if the smoke indeed leads to fire, and if the ability to turn around that narrative with solid ratings or reviews is as limited as it appears it will be for a while, Bloys should at the very least be wary that, as of this week, he’s on watch.  And he can thank the very press he seems to have a Jones for for that.

He can take some solace that at the moment, and indeed even in the moments they were being written, them’s just words.  And yes, reporters often have agendas of their own.  Evidence of that was provided yesterday as well by the uber-arrogant Matthew Belloni of PUCK, whose RINGER podcast THE TOWN this week featured my friend Preston Beckman as his guest.  Ostensibly, as the site’s blurb highlighted, the interview was to give Beckman a chance to give his thoughts on several issues:

 Do networks see pre-branded properties like Frasier as more important than ever, or are they a vestige of a past era on its last leg? They also discuss the art of pilot recastings, if Friends will ever be revived, the state of the binge model, and if TV scheduling is more or less important than ever.

I urge you here to give this a podcast a listen, much as I did my followers on LinkedIn yesterday.  What became more than apparent to me was even as Beckman was offering his considerably edcuated views on those topics, Belloni had many beliefs of his own that he was intent on challenging him on.  In particular, he spent quite a bit of time believing that FRIENDS could or would be revived, rebooted, or reimagined in some form, much the way so many other IPs are these days.  Beckman, who was intimately involved with the show’s creation, rollout and success, and who knows enough about the people involved to have some personal insights, was respectfully rejecting it.  But Belloni continued to press on, much as he did by taking the devil’s advocate position against the demise of the art of scheduling, a recent chain which Beckman felt passionate enough about to author a well-written defense of the skill sets and executives who have been in that role–not just himself.  We’ve covered that in detail here previously, and as someone who has at times had that responsibility, I own up to some personal investment.  Like Bloys and others, I don’t like when people say bad things about what I do, either.

I amplified my response to Beckman’s dropping of the interview on LinkedIn with these thoughts yesterday, and I reiterate them here for the record:

You were as usual brilliant Preston. I continue to be astounded at the remarkable level of entitled arrogance that people like Belloni offer up to subscribers as perceived genius. You consistently needed to correct his assumptions, several points he asserted were correct were anything but, and inserting his personal bias on a marginal show like Happy Endings as even being I mentioned in the same breath as Friends shows how uninformed he chooses to be. Thank goodness he at least had the foresight to give you a chance, but his abrupt dismissive sign off when your conversion ended—leaving that in without editing—shows his hand. I am well aware his attitude and what he deems a “hit” is what tends to dominate the mindsets of many war rooms these days. He and others would be wise to seek your counsel, and those of the many with similar skill sets open to work, far more often and more openly. Thanks making us proud yet again.

To his enduring credit, Beckman was tacit and nuanced in offering his own thoughts:

It was not my favorite interview and I will leave it at that.

It certainly wasn’t mine.  Preston is a pro and certainly capable of defending himself.   But in my view, you simply don’t abruptly end an interview in the manner that Belloni did if you’re even attempting to be objective.   And when you read the fine print on the RINGER’s landing page for how Belloni’s business is constructed, you might learn a bit more as to why my reaction wasn’t quite as calm as was Beckman’s:

For a 20 percent discount on Matt’s Hollywood insider newsletter, What I’m Hearing …, click here.

THE PUCK rewards writers based on their number of followers, and Matt’s in the business of creating clickbait.  He left THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER due to “creative differences”, and, again, he’s far from the first disgrunted talent to walk away from a Penske company.  He’s just much more opinionated and public about his reasons, and has found enough of a following among the Hollywood elite to afford the kind of suits that he tends to show up to opening nights with.  And seems to revel in this ability to remind the bourgeois that might want to educate him that he’s somehow more knowledgeable and accurate than those who actually have done the heavy lifting.

Kinda like Casey Bloys?

So you’re entitled to what you think and how you’ll spend your hard-earned dollars or spend your valuable time.  I, for one, would urge THE RINGER and Bill Simmons to consider the fact that there are far more astute and less judgmental people on his own staff who cover Hollywood news more accurately and unbiasedly–give the Philly pair of Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan of THE WATCH a listen sometime and see if you agree.

But, again, that’s just my opinion, and, again, sticks and stones.  Them’s just words.  But if a picture paints a thousand of them , then let me leave you with what I think of someone who can’t even edit out a snarky and dismissive ending to an interview that didn’t quite go as planned:

Until next time…

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