HBO's programming chief said the cable channel erred in how it unveiled plans for a series envisioning modern Southern slavery, but he defended "Confederate" against sharp criticism it drew on social media.
"I would file this under, 'hindsight is 20-20,'" programming president Casey Bloys said Wednesday. HBO was misguided in expecting that "we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive and requires so much care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release."
If HBO got a do-over, it would have given producers the chance to publicly detail why they wanted to do the series, an understanding that HBO executives had gained before greenlighting the series from "Game of Thrones" masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Benioff and Weiss, who are white, also will serve as showrunners on the series. They'll work with Malcolm Spellman ("Empire," the forthcoming "Foxy Brown") and Nichelle Tramble Spellman ("Justified," ''The Good Wife"), husband-and-wife TV veterans who both are black and who will be fellow executive producers and writers on the new series.
"Confederate" will take place in an alternate timeline where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, forming a nation in which legalized slavery has been modernized. The show won't be "whips and plantations," Bloys said.
It's important to draw a line between America today and its past and try to advance the discussion on race relations, Bloys told a TV critics' meeting Wednesday. He said he's placing his faith in the producers and their passion, calling it a risk worth taking.
He said the more producers can weigh in about why the project is important, the more it will make sense. While people may still not like the idea of the show, at least they'll understand the motivation behind it, Bloys said.
"All we ask is that people judge the final product," he said.
As part of its announcement last week, HBO described the story as following "a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone," including freedom fighters, politicians, abolitionists and executives of a slave-holding conglomerate.
In an interview with the creative team posted to address the backlash that quickly followed, Nichelle Tramble Spellman told Vulture that the drama isn't going to be "the big 'Gone With the Wind' mansion." She said it is "present day, or close to present day, and how the world would have evolved if the South had been successful seceding from the Union."
"Confederate" isn't expected to start production for at least a year. Bloys noted that Benioff and Weiss are hard at work on the final season of "Game of Thrones," with the premiere date yet to be settled. The fantasy drama's seventh and penultimate season just began showing.