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It’s not easy to deal with a negative review. But while most people shrug it off and move forward, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys employed a…unique approach. On multiple occasions, Bloys orchestrated the use of fake accounts to troll the critics on Twitter.
Between June 2020 and April 2021, as first reported by Rolling Stone, Bloys and his SVP of drama programming Kathleen McCaffrey repeatedly discussed using burner accounts to directly combat critics of their shows on Twitter. According to the publication, there were at least six different text-message exchanges between the two executives that involved using a fake Twitter account to harshly respond to TV critics who gave negative reviews to HBO shows. The messages were reviewed and verified via their metadata.
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The texts were provided to Rolling Stone by Sully Temori, a former HBO staffer who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against HBO, McCaffrey, HBO head of drama Francesca Orsi, and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and two producers of his show “The Idol.” Temori, who joined HBO in 2015 as a temp, became an executive assistant in 2017, and then script coordinator on “The Idol” in August 2021 before ultimately getting laid off in October 2021, says that he was asked by McCaffrey in June 2020 to create the fake accounts she and Bloys discussed.
Bloys approached McCaffrey in April 2020 with the idea to respond to a negative tweet from Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk about Season 1 of HBO’s “Perry Mason” reboot. (They ultimately did not respond to her tweet.)
“Alan is always predictably safe and scared in his opinions,” the response reads. The language in the tweet matches the directions McCaffrey allegedly texted to Temori, and the account’s profile picture is a stock photo used on several business websites, according to Rolling Stone.
The Kelly Shepard account also replied harshly to several other critics who gave negative reviews to “The Nevers,” including New York Times chief TV critic James Poniewozik. It again targeted Sepinwall after he linked to a mixed review of “Mare of Easttown.” Aside from the tweets, Temori also allegedly used anonymous accounts to defend HBO shows against negative comments in Hollywood trade publication Deadline’s comments section.
One source inside HBO told IndieWire there is no concern inside the organization over the tweets or the Deadline comments.
Bloys will get his turn to address the article tomorrow. HBO and Max will present their 2024 slates to media (including IndieWire — and critics!) the morning of Thursday, November 2. Bloys will share clips from his upcoming content and then host a Q&A. IndieWire is told Bloys will address the Rolling Stone piece head-on, and field at least 25 minutes worth of open questions overall. The parts of the Rolling Stone story directly related to the pending litigation cannot be discussed in any level of detail; the tweets are not in the lawsuit.
Temori’s disclosure of the tweets comes as part of a broader lawsuit in which he alleges he was harassed and discriminated against by his bosses after disclosing a mental health diagnosis. Temori says he was forced to babysit rescue kittens in Orsi’s office while she joked on the phone he was playing with them to “improve his mental health.” He says he was also sexually harassed due to his sexual orientation, with one unnamed employee allegedly slapping his butt and “commenting about personal and sexual matters.” The lawsuit alleges he was told by the HBO executives to take the “Idol” job as a better opportunity, only to face harassment from star Tesfaye and other producers before getting laid off.
“HBO intends to vigorously defend against Mr. Temori’s allegations. We are not going to comment on select exchanges between programmers and errant tweets,” an HBO spokesperson said in a statement shared with IndieWire. “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.”
Reporting by Tony Maglio.
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