HBO trolled critics online to shut down negative reviews, reflecting a disdain for true criticism

HBO has landed itself in hot water after its CEO, Casey Bloys, admitted to using various aliases on X (formerly known as Twitter) to troll critics who wrote negative reviews of several HBO shows.

“For those of you who know me, you know that I am a programming executive very, very passionate about the shows that we decide to do. And the people who do them and the people who work on them,” Bloys said Thursday morning at a New York promotional event for HBO and Max, according to Variety. “I want the shows to be great. I want people to love them. I want you all to love them. It’s very important to me what you all think of the shows.

“So when you think of that mindset, and then think of 2020 and 2021, I’m home, working from home and spending an unhealthy amount of scrolling through Twitter. And I come up with a very, very dumb idea to vent my frustration.”

Bloys continued, saying the six tweets that he wrote within a year and a half time period were “not very effective.” He then apologized “to the people who were mentioned in the leaked texts,” adding that “obviously, nobody wants to be part of a story that they have nothing to do with.”    

“But also, as many of you know, I have progressed over the past couple of years to using DMs. So now, when I take issue with something in a review, or take issue with something I see, I DM many of you, and many of you are gracious enough to engage with me in a back and forth and I think that is probably a much healthier way to go about this. But we’ll talk more about that, and you guys can ask me anything you want in the Q&A. I just wanted to put that out there,” Bloys concluded.

The HBO boss’ admission and apology came just one day after Rolling Stone published a report detailing a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Bloys and HBO from an ex-employee, Sully Temori. In his lawsuit, Temori claimed he faced harassment, retaliation and discrimination after disclosing a mental health diagnosis to his bosses. He also was allegedly “asked to perform menial tasks not related to his work duties, such as creating fake online accounts to respond to critics,” the report detailed.

Rolling Stone published a slew of text exchanges between Bloys and HBO’s senior vice president of drama programming Kathleen McCaffrey, in which the duo allegedly discussed targeting critics who spoke negatively about HBO shows. Rolling Stone said it reviewed the metadata associated with the messages, which were provided by Temori, and verified their authenticity.

In one such exchange, Bloys expressed his annoyance with Vulture TV critic Kathryn VanArendonk’s thoughts on the HBO drama series “Perry Mason.” VanArendonk, who felt the show’s World War I-centric plot was weak storytelling, subtweeted the series, writing, “Dear prestige TV. Please find some way to communicate male trauma besides showing me a flashback to the hero’s memories of trench warfare.” 

“Maybe a Twitter user should tweet that that’s a pretty blithe response to what soldiers legitimately go through on [the] battlefield,” Bloys texted McCaffrey after seeing VanArendonk’s review. “Do you have a secret handle? Couldn’t we say especially given that it’s D-Day to dismiss a soldier’s experience like that seems pretty disrespectful . . . this must be answered!”

“We just need a random to make the point and make her feel bad,” he added.

Bloys’ so-called “random” was Kelly Shepard, a made-up person who described herself as a vegan Texan mom on her Twitter profile. At Bloy’s request, Temori sent snarky tweets from Shepard’s account in response to critics who dare criticized an HBO production.

In response to VanArendonk, Kelly Shepard wrote, “A somewhat elitist take. Is there anything more traumatic for men (and now women) than fighting in a war. Sorry if that seems too convenient for you.”

Bloys’ largest attack came after several critics gave unfavorable reviews of Joss Whedon’s steampunk-fantasy series “The Nevers.” Bloys initially targeted Rolling Stone chief TV critic Alan Sepinwall for his 2.5-star review of the show.

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In response to Sepinwall, the Kelly Shepherd account wrote, “Alan is always predictably safe and scared in his opinions.” The account also launched a similar assault on New York Times chief TV critic James Poniewozik and Times TV critic Mike Hale:

“How shocking that two middle aged white men (you & Hale) are sh**ting on a show about women . . .” Shepard said.

Salon’s Senior Critic Melanie McFarland wasn’t targeted by the fake tweeter, but was similarly unenthused by “The Nevers,” writing in her review that the characters “deserve better, as does this cast and the broader TV audience.”

It’s curious that Bloys chose “The Nevers” hill to die on since the show was not received well and earned a disappointing 49% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The first season of 12 episodes was split into two parts, but the show was canceled before the second set of episodes ever aired.

Meanwhile, the popular Sepinwall found himself at the center of another one of Bloys’ attacks after he gave “Mare of Easttown” a  3-star review. The crime drama, which stars Kate Winslet and Evan Peters, earned an astounding Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%.

“Alan missed on ‘Succession’ and totally misses here because he is busy virtue signaling,” Bloys’ troll account wrote in a response.

Bloys also came after an anonymous user, who criticized his leadership in a Deadline article about the sudden cancellation of the comedy series “Run.” The rom-com thriller earned mostly favorable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with an overall score of 81%. He also attacked another anonymous user who left “mean comments” about Bridget Everett’s new comedy-drama “Somebody Somewhere.”

True criticism hasn’t been particularly valued these days, to the point that some studios are trying to game the system. Lately, many audience members have been bashing film and TV critics, especially in the wake of Vulture’s Rotten Tomatoes exposé, which found that publicists and PR companies were bribing less principled, self-published critics to write positive reviews to boost overall scores on the website. The report encouraged many to question the integrity of online criticism and whether authentic criticism, as a whole, has officially lost its value.