HBO's prestige ethos was no match for the content wars

How the network went from crown jewel to 90 Day Fiancé supplement

A television.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

In the winter of 2018, HBO's then-CEO Richard Plepler issued what was either a noble maxim about the pursuit of great art, or foolishly romantic last words, depending on your point of view. "More is not better," he told The Wall Street Journal. "Only better is better."

Plepler's boss, John Stankey, who was running parent company WarnerMedia at the time, fell into the latter camp. By the end of the year, Stankey had ambitions to create a Netflix competitor called HBO Max. "I want more hours of engagement," he reportedly told HBO employees. The service required "hours a day," he insisted, "not hours a week, and it's not hours a month." Shortly thereafter, Plepler — whose tenure had involved overseeing "Golden Age of Television" hits such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and Veep — resigned.

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