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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The blank screen that so upset everyone at the end of the Sopranos could be an interesting metaphor for HBO. Remember the slogan “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”? Well that lofty attitude was based on enormously popular series like “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.” Now that those shows are gone, does the cable network have anything on the bench that can keep profits high and viewers happy? Mike Speier is the executive editor for Daily Variety. Welcome.

MIKE SPEIER: Hi, how are you?

THOMAS: Well Tony Soprano survived, but I guess the question is will HBO take a hit now that he’s gone?

SPEIER: Sure they will. I mean, “Sopranos” specifically, the ratings for the last episode were humongous and right away that’s a show that’s going away. So here’s, “Sopranos” was such a cultural movement, it wasn’t just a show and while the ratings ebbed and flowed, and the last season was strong but not as strong as the season before, the point is people gathered around the television for “The Sopranos” and that made HBO more than just a cable network

THOMAS: Sort of the ultimate appointment viewing.

SPEIER: Correct. So now they don’t have it and they don’t have anything close to it.

THOMAS: Well HBO premiered “John from Cincinnati” right after that final episode. Should we read that as the network’s next big new thing? And how are viewers responding to that premiere show?

SPEIER: I hope HBO doesn’t think everyone looks at it as the next big thing, because the ratings for “John from Cincinnati” were not good and critics have not been kind to it. It’s been more mixed reviews than anything else. But again it’s certainly no comparison to the shows they had before which “Sex and the City,””Sopranos” and even to some extent “Six Feet Under,” they just hit their wave and hit a movement where they had three huge shows that humongous amounts of people liked. Now they have very niche shows like “Entourage” or “Big Love” that are popular within their circles, but nothing compares to what they had and they have to worry about that.

THOMAS: A lot of other networks have come up with successful series on their own, perhaps taking a page out of HBO’s playbook. Plus with movie downloads so much easier, it’s kind of a whole new world isn’t it?

SPEIER: Yeah, HBO’s never had to face any of this. They haven’t had to face critical barbs. They haven’t had to face nothing in the pipeline that matches what they’ve had.

THOMAS: An executive who . . .

SPEIER: An executive who was arrested who was supposed to be the leader for the longest time. He was known, Chris Albrecht was known as “the man” who brought HBO into prominence and now he surprisingly, of course because of an arrest last month, has been let go and they’ve hired someone new. And so they’re going through a huge transition now and they have to compete of course with other cable shows that are doing very well. I mean they’re still the big man on the block, they’re just not the only man on the block.

THOMAS: Mike Speier is the executive editor for Daily Variety. Thanks Mike.

SPEIER: My pleasure.

THOMAS: And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.

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