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Former HBO chief Richard Plepler negotiating deal with Apple

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Former HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler at a Vanity Fair event in 2014.
(Michael Kovac / Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Richard Plepler, who led HBO through a creative renaissance with “Game of Thrones,” “Silicon Valley,” “Succession” and “Chernobyl,” is in advance talks with Apple Inc. for a production deal to create original programming for the tech giant’s streaming service, according to three people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to discuss it.

In February, Plepler exited his longtime perch at HBO in New York after three decades with the premium channel. At the time, there were tensions following AT&T’s takeover of the media company.

Bringing Plepler into the fold would give Apple the services and expertise of one of the industry’s most successful programming executives. The Cupertino, Calif., company launched its Apple TV+ subscription service this month, but its shows debuted with mixed results. “The Morning Show,” with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, generally received mediocre reviews, although the L.A. Times described the series as “a mix of melodrama and well-written interactions that feel genuinely human.”

Over the years, Apple’s programming efforts have yielded a spotty track record — a departure for a company that has long been known for producing high-quality consumer products.

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Apple is expected to initially spend $1 billion to $2 billion annually on its original content efforts. Many of its programs were led by well-known celebrities or directors, including Oprah Winfrey, “Game of Thrones” star Jason Momoa and Aniston.

The company made a statement two years ago when it landed Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht — two former Sony Pictures Television executives — to turbocharge its original programming efforts. But Apple has experienced some growing pains. Some Hollywood insiders have complained privately that dealings with Apple have been difficult and criticized the company for being overly cautious in its programming.

Van Amburg and Erlicht have touted their efforts to produce high-quality prestige TV. They have been leading the efforts to negotiate a production deal with Plepler’s company RLP & Co., one of the knowledgeable people said.

As part of a management restructuring earlier this week, Apple programming executive Kim Rozenfeld left his position as head of current scripted and unscripted programming. He will continue to work with Apple TV+ with a first look production deal. Matt Cherniss, head of scripted development at Apple TV+, added current scripted series to his oversight while Molly Thompson will continue as head of documentaries.

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Some industry watchers have noted that, despite his success at HBO, Plepler’s career has been spent in marketing and greenlighting shows and that he hasn’t had experience in the nuts and bolts of producing.

AT&T purchased Time Warner in June 2018 and plans a streaming service that includes HBO programming, originals and library product, including reruns of “Friends.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.


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