In a whiskey-soaked interview with GQ, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht turns a planned mea culpa into an accusation against his former boss
In a wine- and whiskey-soaked interview with GQ magazine, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht managed to turn a planned mea culpa moment into an accusation against his former boss, Jeff Bewkes.
Albrecht , the former CEO of HBO, was attempting to publicly apologize for the 2007 incident in which he choked his girlfriend in a Las Vegas parking lot and got arrested, and then fired.
“I wasn’t drunk,” he told writer Amy Wallace, “But I was, in some sense, in a state of shock. I could not believe I had lost control of myself.”
Albrecht was dragged off the neck of his girlfriend Karla Jensen by two cops, and thrown in the Vegas clink. When he got out, he called his boss, Time-Warner CEO Bewkes, and a crisis PR team.
They, Bewkes included, told him to lie after the media got wind of the assault, he said.
“The idea came up that I would say that I had been drinking and was drunk and fell off the wagon. Jeff said to me that it would soften everything and would help him to keep me,” Albrecht said.
The statement about his alcoholism was released on Tuesday, over the strong objections of his daughters, Albrecht told GQ, because it wasn't true. “I said those things in an effort to help keep my job. I was so ashamed that I just did what anybody told me to do.”
What is Albrecht up to? Is he conscious of the implication of this kind of remark? Accusing the CEO of a public company of lying to protect another executive is lit gunpowder. And possibly an invitation to an investigation by a board or an outside authority.
Bewkes did not seem perturbed when queried by Wallace.
Maybe that because there’s a problem with the witness.
After 13 years of religious devotion to Alcoholic’s Anonymous, Albrecht — who is now running Starz, where he is tasked with creating original programming that will allow the pay cable company to challenge HBO — is drinking again.
This time with a journalist.
The article opens in a taxi in Dublin, with Albrecht fresh off three taster bottles of Irish whiskey. He announces to Wallace: “I want a drink.”
The party quickly moves on to a restaurant called the Pig’s Ear, where Albrecht orders red wine for his Starz team and tastes it for them.
Somewhere in there he offers this choice piece of insight: “After years of reflection and working with specialists, I have recognized that alcohol is not an issue in my life. What I really needed to get at the heart of was my complicated and often very diffcult love relationships with women.”
Forget about the women thing, which already got him fired once. (Now he’s engaged to a woman half his age, and thrilled.)
The article is one of those rare, revealing moments of Hollywood journalism – shades of Jamie Tarses in the New York Times magazine, and that memorable piece Wallace did on Peter Bart years ago – where the subject is unaware that he is doing himself in.
But Albrecht’s return to drinking and remarkable denial that he’s even doing so reflects something more, an astonishing level of hubris.
It lends credence to the information that I learned back in July when Albrecht mistakenly sent an email meant for an underling about Overture co-chairmen Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett to the entire Starz staff.
Namely, that Albrecht didn’t slip and hit a “reply” button on email. Instead, he “drunk-dialled” the email to the entire staff, resulting in McGurk and Rosett’s embarrassment and immediate departure.
One insider I know spoke to Albrecht on the night the email was sent, after the CEO had landed in Spain on a business trip.
“He was incoherent,” said this insider. “He was s—-faced.”
Update: Another executive who spoke to Albrecht on that night dispute this read of the executive's demeanor.
“Chris was clear. He was freaked out, he was devastated. Chagrined does not begin to cover it,” said this executive who spoke to Albrecht in the moments after the email was sent. “He did not seem drunk to me.”