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HBO’s new lineup features an old Ponzi scheme and a young pope

Executive producer/director Barry Levinson, executive producer/actor Robert De Niro, executive producer Jane Rosenthal, and author/consultant Diana Henriques of the film The Wizard Of Lies. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

HBO took over the Television Critics Association this morning, with a star-studded lineup that included Robert De Niro, Jude Law, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Judd Apatow. The premium cable channel threw its support behind five main titles (especially since Game Of Thrones isn’t returning until the summer), leading off with The Wizard Of Lies, a dramatization of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme scandal with Robert De Niro as Madoff, Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife, directed by Barry Levinson, and based on Diana Henriques’ book. De Niro admitted that he wasn’t sure he wanted to do the movie, but now “I’m glad I did it,” even if he remains confused by his subject matter. “What he did is beyond my comprehension. There’s a disconnect somehow in him.”

On the lighter side, HBO followed up with Judd Apatow’s new comedy Crashing, starring Pete Holmes in a slightly autobiographic look at the early days of his comedy career. As Holmes’ character, also named Pete, attempts to break into the New York comedy world, he comes across comedians like Sarah Silverman and Artie Lange, playing themselves. Apatow described, “On Larry Sanders, a lot of times celebrities were making fun of their own personas. This is different. We really did improvisations with these people.” The show premieres in February on Sundays alongside Girls, giving Apatow an HBO comedy block on Sunday nights.

The Defiant Ones documentary will feature the story of how Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine created an empire that affected not only the music industry, but basically all of pop culture, featuring appearances by music icons like Tom Petty, Snoop Dogg, and Bruce Springsteen. Dre was not on the panel, but Iovine turned out to be an absolute font of one-liners, tapping back into his long history in rock music. “I got fired from Foghat,” went one story. “I was an idiot… I fell asleep in the studio and had my girlfriend come visit. Then I ran into Patti Smith, and she said she wanted me to produce her album. I said, ‘I just got fired from Foghat! She said, ‘I don’t give a shit, I don’t even like Foghat!’”

Only a tad more somber was the panel for The Young Pope, which premieres tomorrow. Star Jude Law admitted that starring in the series definitely made him reconsider his own spirituality. He also raved about co-star Diane Keaton, who plays Sister Mary, saying that she brings “a unique sense of humor, and mischief, and boundless warmth.” He described Sister Mary as the “Mama Rose” to his young pope, throwing in a surprising reference from Gypsy. He also knows what memes are now.

Finally, HBO wrapped up its morning with a look at Big Little Lies, which premieres February 19. Based on a best-selling novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, the series features Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman both as leads and producers. Both stars were drawn to the project as a showcase for women, as it features three main roles and several supporting in its story about a group of moms whose lives intersect in Monterey. Kidman said that the source material “is about women helping each other and supporting each other, which was very important to Reese and myself.” The series goes a bit darker than the book, and is scripted by David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who also helmed Wild and Dallas Buyers Club. Witherspoon revealed that he was only slated to direct the first few episodes, but the cast loved his work so much, they persuaded him to stick it out to the end.

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