During today’s presentation about HBO’s slate of upcoming projects, CEO / chair Casey Bloys could have tried denying recent reports that he and fellow executive Kathleen McCaffrey concocted a scheme to target and harass critics who wrote negative things about some of the network’s recently released series in the early days of the pandemic. Instead, though, Bloys owned up to the allegations of his trying to build a “secret army” of Twitter trolls, apologized, and insisted that he isn’t the kind of person who would do that sort of thing now.
On Wednesday, Rolling Stone published a rather wild report detailing how, for almost a year between June 2020 and April 2021, “Bloys and McCaffrey discussed using what they called a ‘secret army’ to fire back at several TV critics on Twitter” in response to negative criticism about shows like the Perry Mason reboot and Joss Whedon’s The Nevers.
According to text messages reviewed by Rolling Stone, Bloys took issue with Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk’s tweeting mild criticism of Perry Mason’s reliance on flashbacks and Rolling Stone chief TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s giving The Nevers — a show that was widely panned for its lack of narrative cohesion — a 2.5-star review. Ultimately, Bloys and McCaffrey decided not to follow through on their plan to go after VanArendonk by sending messages intended to “make her feel bad” through sock puppet Twitter accounts.
But when it came to Sepinwall — along with other critics like The New York Times’ James Poniewozik and even anonymous people who left negative comments in Deadline pieces about HBO’s decision to cancel Vicky Jones’ series Run — Bloys and McCaffrey wanted to hit back. All of these allegations were part of a previously unreported wrongful termination lawsuit filed in July by former executive assistant Sully Temori, who claimed that he was tasked with creating fake social media accounts to harass critics at the insistence of Bloys and McCaffrey.
Though HBO issued a statement on Wednesday expressing its intent to “vigorously defend against Mr. Temori’s allegations,” the network did not deny Rolling Stone’s reporting about Bloys and McCaffrey directly telling Temori — who was initially hired as a temp — to create sock puppet accounts.
Onstage today, Bloys himself essentially admitted to pushing for the harassment and tried to frame his plan as “a very, very dumb idea” that came as a result of his “spending an unhealthy amount of time scrolling through Twitter.” Bloys also said that “as many of you know, I have progressed over the past couple of years” and that he now opts to DM critics directly as himself, “and many of you are gracious enough to engage with me back and forth.”
Regardless of whatever sort of claps of cordiality Bloys’ statement might have received, the reality is that he got caught being deeply petty (which is fine) and then acting on that pettiness by slapping together a plan to harass and belittle others (which is not fine and a bad look for a company in HBO’s position right now). Beyond the ethics at play, the whole thing makes Bloys seem unreceptive to the sort of critical feedback that networks can use or at least listen to as they work to produce the kinds of series that keep subscribers paying for streaming services.