Big Little Lies wrapped up its second season with a muted and somewhat anticlimactic finale on Sunday night, bringing resolution to the custody battle between Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) as the Monterey Five finally came clean about the biggest lie of all. But a secondary drama has been unfolding off-screen, ever since IndieWire published a bombshell report alleging that director Andrea Arnold was not given the creative control over the show that she was initially promised.
Specifically, the report stated that post-production duties were taken from Arnold and given to executive producer Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed all of Season 1. According to Indiewire's sources, Vallée was tasked with "[taking] Arnold’s work and make it look and feel like the familiar style Vallée brought to the hit first season." Speaking to journalists at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Wednesday, July 2), HBO's president of programming Casey Bloys addressed the report, which he characterized as containing "a lot of misinformation."
Bloys began by reiterating HBO's original statement: that "there would not be a second season of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold, we're indebted to her, she did a beautiful job and she got extraordinary performances." He then went on to defend the post-production process, which he described as routine. "As anybody who works in TV knows, the director typically does not have final creative control," Bloys said, adding that "the idea that creative control was taken from a director is just a false premise. Typically what happens in TV is the director turns in a director’s cut, and the production team uses that to hone the episodes, and that’s what happened here.”
Bloys also denied that “Jean-Marc unilaterally decided to come in and take over the process. Andrea did director’s cuts for all seven episodes [and] handed it in to the showrunner and producing team.” Bloys said that the entire producing team, including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and showrunner David E. Kelley, “came in to help hone the episodes.,” and that Vallée, as an executive producer, was a part of that process. “It was kind of business as usual. I would be hard pressed to point to any show that airs a director’s cut as its episode. It’s typically the raw material that producers work on.”
Asked about the perception that Arnold was misled into believing she would have more creative control than she ultimately did, Bloys said, “We were clear with Andrea, and so were the producers, that coming into the new season, none of us wanted to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We didn’t want to reinvent the show.” Later in the panel, Bloys reiterated that “Andrea was never promised that she would have free rein. We were clear, and the producers were clear, that while we hired her for her eye and for her talent, and she got extraordinary performances out of this cast, we were clear and she understood that we were not looking to reinvent the show.” He added that Vallée’s involvement was “well known” to Arnold.
As for the possibility of a Season 3, Bloys said it’s unlikely. “My sense is, having approached a possible Season 2 skeptically, it became clear to us that there was a story to tell, which is what happens after a big lie like that? How does it affect everybody? To me, on the face of it, there’s no obvious place to go or no obvious story [for a third season]. That said, this is an extraordinary group, and if they came to me and said 'We have a take, listen to this,' of course I would be open to it. It doesn’t feel like [there will be more], but I’m certainly open."
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