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Television

‘Big Little Lies’: HBO never promised Andrea Arnold ‘free rein,’ network chief says

“Big Little Lies”
Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in a scene from Season 2 of “Big Little Lies."”
(Jennifer Clasen / HBO)

The questioning didn’t quite reach the theatrics of the courtroom scenes of “Big Little Lies” this season, but HBO programming boss Casey Bloys addressed the hubbub over a recent report that suggested Season 2 director Andrea Arnold was steamrolled on the editing of the series.

Bloys appeared before reporters Wednesday during HBO’s presentation at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills. And when he wasn’t fielding questions about “Game of Thrones,” Bloys was asked repeatedly about a recent report that alleged “Big Little Lies” writer David E. Kelley and Season 1 director Jean-Marc Vallée, both executive producers on the series, seized creative control from Arnold.

The report said a second team of editors was hired to recut her work and that reshoots were ordered to match the show’s Season 1 aesthetic. The article set off questions about the role of directors in writer-driven television and gender dynamics in Hollywood.

Bloys on Wednesday led by praising Arnold’s work on the series — “There wouldn’t be a second season of ‘Big Little Lies’ without Andrea. We are indebted to her. I think she did a beautiful job” — before maintaining that what occurred was not unusual, outlining the standard procedure for directors working in television.

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“The director typically does not have final creative control,” Bloys said. “So the idea that a creative control was taken from a director is just a false premise. Typically what happens in TV is a director turns in a director’s cut and a showrunner and producing team use that to hone the episodes. That’s what happened here.”

Bloys stressed that Vallée did not take it upon himself to take over the process, and underscored that Vallée’s role as executive producer, and his work establishing the look of the series as Season 1 director, merited his involvement.

“Jean-Marc at that point was actually on break,” Bloys said. “But David [and] the entire producing team … asked Jean-Marc to come in and help hone the episodes, which is not unusual.

“I would be hard-pressed,” Bloys continued, “to point to any show that airs a director’s cut as its episode. It’s typically the raw material that producers work from. That is what the case was here.”

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He also noted that, from the beginning, Arnold hadn’t been promised final cut of the series and that they weren’t looking for her to “reinvent” the show in Season 2.

“I think it’s always a challenge for a director coming in,” Bloys said. “The challenge of expressing yourself and staying true to a framework already established. There were no surprises as to how this was going to work.”

As for the spate of credited editors listed on each episode, Bloys attributed that to Vallée’s work preferences.

“He’s an editor and he has a team of editors he works with,” Bloys said. “He’s very particular with who he works with and how he works with them. … Jean-Marc was not given carte blanche [in Season 1]. He and [Kelley] had an aligned vision of what they wanted the season to do. Andrea was never promised she would have free rein.”

The sophomore season of the star-studded drama wrapped earlier this week to mixed reviews — a turnaround from the months of build-up to its premiere fueled by curiosity over whether the series could sustain its momentum or would become an example of TV’s penchant for unnecessarily stringing series out past their prime. Asked about the possibility of a third season, Bloys hedged.

“Never say never,” he said. “There’s no obvious place to go, no obvious story. This group is an extraordinary group of actors. If they all came to me and said, ‘We have the greatest take,’ I would certainly be open to it. Who knows? It just doesn’t feel like it. But I’m certainly open to it.”


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