So apparently some guy who used to be on Degrassi and some other guy who’s dating Nicki Minaj are having a rap beef of some kind? But enough about that: OMG you guys, HBO is beefing with Starz, and it’s about to get real. Maybe not real enough to spill into physical violence—or even profane tweets—but at least real enough to warrant a mention in Broadcasting & Cable.
The tense and bitter feud began when Starz sent television reporters a press release touting its pro basketball comedy Survivor’s Remorse and slamming HBO’s pro football comedy Ballers, noting that many critics called the show “mediocre.” (Which it totally is.) “Survivor’s Remorse was funnier, better written, and an overall better show,” said the release. (Also true.) In a Thursday panel during HBO’s block of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Ballers star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who appeared via satellite, was asked about the incendiary comments. But because he’s adorable and you just want to pinch his widdle cheeks, Johnson talked around the question rather than slam the competition.
But HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo, who facilitated the conference call with Johnson, wasn’t ready to let the beef die. “When you said it, I was saying, ‘What’s Survivor’s Remorse’? And I guess that says it all. 9 million people are watching Ballers.” Remorse, meanwhile, did dismal numbers in its debut, pulling only 203,000 live viewers. Shots fired, amirite? There hasn’t been show-on-show aggression like this since The CW ran a commercial on ABC Family urging viewers to stop watching Pretty Little Liars and tune in to The Originals.
Starz’ CEO Chris Albrecht appeared at TCA on Friday for an executive session during which he addressed the sort-of rivalry, but he reserved his disdain for the blood-thirsty reporters. “I landed in town late last night and I saw some of this nonsense,” said Albrecht. “I have nothing but respect and affection for Michael Lombardo. He and I shared a lot of great memories over the years. And shame on whoever framed this question yesterday. They come up here to talk about their shows, and they don’t need to be ambushed by silly questions.”
It’s worth noting that Albrecht and Lombardo go way, way back. Albrecht spent five years as HBO’s head of original production, a seminal period in HBO’s development during which he shepherded The Sopranos, Sex And The City, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, The Wire, and Band Of Brothers. In other words, Albrecht was at the wheel during the era that earned HBO the “not TV” image and Emmy dominance that’s now synonymous with its brand.
Albrecht continued: “I have never seen Ballers, but I assume it’s good because HBO picked it up for a second season. And why would they do that if it wasn’t good?” Which is what you’d say if you were responsible for unleashing Entourage on an unsuspecting public. “We’re very proud of Survivor’s Remorse. One of our people was pitching the show, maybe a little too ardently, and pointed to comparative reviews of the shows on Metacritic. There is no feud, certainly. And I’m very serious. These people are up here to talk about their shows. Behave yourselves and please ask appropriate questions, alright?”
When the cast and producers of Survivor’s Remorse appeared in a panel later in the day, no one asked the cast or creator Mike O’Malley about the press release or Lombardo’s comments, having been thoroughly chastened by Albrecht. Let’s hope the skirmish isn’t put to rest, because this is the sort of thing that passes for high drama at TCA. But if it is, maybe those two rap guys—one is maybe named Blake, and the other is Mike Mills, which, who even knew the R.E.M. bassist became a rapper?—could learn a little something from Albrecht and Lombardo.