HBO chief accused of assault in 1991

Times Staff Writer

Chris Albrecht temporarily stepped aside as chairman and chief executive of Home Box Office on Tuesday after his weekend arrest on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend.

But the incident raises questions about how the cable channel handled an earlier allegation of battery involving Albrecht.

In 1991, Time Warner Inc.’s HBO paid a settlement of at least $400,000 to a female subordinate with whom Albrecht was romantically involved after she alleged that he shoved and choked her, according to four people with knowledge of the matter who declined to be named because the payment was confidential.


The settlement, to Sasha Emerson, was overseen by Time Warner President Jeffrey Bewkes, who at the time was a top executive at the cable network, said two people familiar with the details. Bewkes is in line to become chief executive of Time Warner next year, when Richard Parsons retires.

Reached late Tuesday, David Chesnoff, Albrecht’s lawyer, and Time Warner spokesman Ed Adler declined to comment.

Albrecht, a 22-year HBO veteran and the creative force behind such hit series as “The Sopranos,” said Tuesday that he had a drinking problem and would take a voluntary leave.

Parsons said the company takes “these matters very seriously and will monitor this situation closely.” HBO Chief Operating Officer Bill Nelson will assume Albrecht’s duties, Time Warner said.

Albrecht was arrested around 3 a.m. Sunday in Las Vegas outside the MGM Grand Hotel when police broke up an altercation between him and his unidentified girlfriend. Albrecht spent 12 hours in a detention center before being released and returning to his home in Los Angeles.

People who have worked with the 54-year-old executive describe him as a creative genius given to emotional tirades.


In the wake of Albrecht’s arrest, industry executives were abuzz about the alleged 1991 incident involving Albrecht and his subordinate, Sasha Emerson. Emerson, who signed a confidentiality agreement, has never spoken publicly about the matter, and when contacted Tuesday, she declined to comment.

The episode never surfaced in the press, and people close to Emerson said Tuesday that they were surprised HBO was able to keep it secret for 16 years.

At the time, Albrecht was president of HBO Independent Productions, which developed and produced hit comedy series such as “Martin” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” for distribution on HBO and major broadcast networks.

Emerson, who had joined HBO in 1986, was senior vice president at HBO Independent Productions and reported directly to Albrecht.

By 1990, the two had become romantically involved. Both were married at the time. The affair broke up Emerson’s first marriage, according to one person close to her.

By the time the incident occurred, Emerson and Albrecht had ended their trysts. Albrecht allegedly assaulted Emerson in her office in Century City when she told him she had been dating someone else, said one person close to Emerson. Albrecht allegedly threw her from her chair to the ground, the person said.


She reported the confrontation to HBO Chief Michael Fuchs, the person said. Fuchs did not return calls Tuesday.

HBO launched an internal investigation. At the conclusion, lawyers for Emerson and HBO began settlement talks.

A 1991 divorce filing from her husband, Jonathan Emerson, stated that Sasha Emerson would receive a “personal injury settlement award from HBO as a result of petitioner’s claim against HBO.”

Emerson left HBO in 1991 and took a job as a television executive at New Line. In 1998, she left the entertainment industry and is now an interior designer.

Albrecht became president of original programming at HBO in 1995 and chairman in July 2002.

In a letter to “my colleagues and friends” at HBO that the company released Tuesday, Albrecht confessed that he had resumed drinking two years ago after being “a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 13 years.” He said he would take the leave “in order to go back to working with AA.”


Times staff writers Thomas Mulligan and Alana Semuels contributed to this report.