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A Longshot Bullseye: Why HBO Greenlit Game of Thrones

What It Says On the Tin


There aren’t many dense adult fantasy novels that succeed as TV shows. In movie-form there are Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and the plethora of high fantasy video games (Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, WoW, just about everything made within the first twenty years of the RPG genre) speaks for itself. However, the TV realm is mercurial, harsh, and forbidding. If TV is the land beyond the Wall (ruled by clans vying for success and ever-expanding territories), Game of Thrones is the true King in the North.

But why?

Sure, the “dark and gritty” atmosphere is what people are flocking to right now (look no further than the Nolan Batman trilogy or The Hunger Games for an example) and Game of Thrones has that in spades. And swords. And hammers. It also has lots of sex and political intrigue; but the books are loaded with so many characters you need pages and pages of diagrams to keep track of them all, not to mention the various places and relationships and histories that are integral to understanding what’s going on.

This is not an intuitive TV success story. Game of Thrones was a risk on HBO’s part, so what drove them to give it the green light?

President of Programming for HBO Michael Lombardo explained to Entertainment Weekly the moment he decided to give Thrones a chance:

We had this pilot script and we were budgeting it and scratching our head whether we should go ahead and greenlight this, and we were trying to figure out the production challenges. We knew it had to be able to stand next to projects in this genre being done on the big screen yet with a more limited budget.

So he thinks on it as he goes to the gym– coincidentally, the same gym Dan Weiss (one of the primary writers for the Game of Thrones TV series)  was at. And what was he reading?

He was reading this dog-eared copy of the first book. And it had underscores and yellow highlights [on the pages]. And he did not know I saw him — I was standing on the side. And I thought, ‘We’re going to figure this out. These guys breathe this show in a way that doesn’t happen all the time.’ I found that little window into Dan in that quiet moment, that this is what he was doing in his free time. It was such an acknowledgment of everything I suspected about those guys, and it made me determined to figure this thing out.

I would say that they “figured this thing out” pretty well. 5.4 million viewers well.

And what of the future of the show? Fans are worrying that George R. R. Martin won’t write fast enough, and that the show will catch up with the books and leave the series with nowhere to go.

The author is confident that won’t happen: “I still have a lead of several gigantic books,” he told io9, “If they include everything in the books, I don’t think they’re going to catch up with me. If they do, we’ll have some interesting discussions.”

(via io9 and Entertainment Weekly)
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