'Creative' Albrecht Moves Up at HBO

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Chris Albrecht, the man widely viewed as the architect of Home Box Office's unprecedented run of original-programming success, is stepping into Jeff Bewkes's former role as chairman and CEO.

As president of HBO original programming since 1995, Albrecht, age 49, has won critical praise and numerous awards. More will be on the way: The premium network copped 93 Emmy nominations last Thursday, the most for any network.

The Albrecht-run creative unit is known for giving producers creative freedom, and making decisions based on instincts, not focus groups.

Robert Greenblatt, principal of The Greenblatt Janollari Studio, executive producers for HBO's Six Feet Under,
said in a recent interview that the pitch for the funeral dramedy was made to Albrecht and his team on a Friday, and a production go-ahead came the following Monday.

"I asked, 'Don't you want to test it, or call New York?' " said Greenblatt. "They said, 'Go make the show.' "

Albrecht's stature is golden with the Hollywood set, but some observers wonder how well he's known among the operator community.

"He's a creative genius," said one cable-network programming veteran. "But I'm not sure how far his Rolodex goes with MSO and [direct-broadcast satellite] executives, as well as their marketers. I guess Bill will be handling a lot of the affiliate dealings."

The source referred to Bill Nelson, formerly HBO's executive vice president in charge of finance, information and operations technology and business affairs, who'll become HBO's chief operating officer.

Both Albrecht and Bewkes, age 50, are known for a wry sense of humor. Said Starz Encore president of programming Bob Leighton: "With both of the previous CEOs, Jeff and Michael Fuchs, they both wanted to be stand-up comedians. With Chris, you have someone with that professional pedigree."

Before embarking on his television career, Albrecht owned The Improvisation comedy club in Manhattan from 1975 to 1980.

Leighton, who worked at HBO for 17 years, added: "Chris is a great guy. HBO has been having at it for two decades in trying to wean its audience off theatricals in favor of originals. They always thought it was their manifest destiny, but Chris was the guy to do it."

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