But once they did, the film, airing Feb. 16, topped the network’s “must have” list.
“I have no clue why this works,” HBO’s President of Programming Michael Lombardo told the Daily News. “If someone said to me, ‘Why is this on HBO?’ I can’t say why — this isn’t a traditional documentary and this isn’t a traditional music special because there something undeniably moving and honest about it.”
Lombardo said that the film arrived at HBO nearly complete and needed only minor edits and titles added, all of which were handled by Beyoncé’s team.
Initially, he did not go out of his way to accommodate Beyoncé — after all, HBO has long been known for airing critically acclaimed documentaries and blockbuster music specials.
They receive and reject hundreds of pitches a year — many times from A-list stars.
“I knew who Beyoncé was, but I wasn’t really a fan. If you had asked me to name more than one of her songs at that point I couldn’t,” Lombardo admitted.
But as he does for most potential HBO programming candidates, he asked Beyoncé’s team to send over a copy of her film for him to preview.
They refused and instead insisted that they personally hand deliver a copy and watch it with him in HBO’s Los Angeles screening room.
It took almost six weeks for them to agree on a date and time, and when he finally saw the film Lombardo was blown away.
“This, felt so fresh and honest to me,” he said. “She’s constantly walking this line between public performer and private person, and wrestling with how, in this massive spotlight, she can hold onto the part of yourself that makes you real.
“It’s such an honest struggle and such an honest conversation,” he said.
“I was also dazzled by how hard she works, the unbelievable, unsexy, hard, sweaty work that goes into mounting a show — any show she does. You just have to take you hat off to her.”
Lombardo said he didn’t know if Beyoncé had offered the film to other networks, although he had a sense that she had.
“If I was involved in a bidding war (with another network), her management was too elegant to say so,” he said.
The singer’s main concern was how the film would be handled — she didn’t want it to be framed as a run-of-the-mill music special or a simple documentary.
“We understood what she wanted,” Lombardo said. “And I think that made the difference.”
The film, a labor of love for the pop superstar, was mostly self-filmed and includes a scene in which she sees her unborn daughter for the first time in an ultrasound scan.
“I just had a feeling something was going on,” she says in the film of her pregnancy.
“People see celebrities, they have money and fame, but I’m a human being,” Beyoncé says on camera. “I cry, I get scared, I get nervous just like everyone else.”
A similar video released last month, featured the polished singer onstage and an even more beautiful, makeup-free Beyoncé confessing her feelings to her computer at home.
Making the film was a struggle, the 31-year-old admits.
“I always battle with, ‘How much do I reveal about myself?’”
“If I’m scared, be scared, allow it. Release it,” she says.
Lombardo couldn’t agree more.
“She’s the real deal,” he said.