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George R.R. Martin and HBO Executives Talk About the Future of 'Game of Thrones'

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jul 29th 2011 1:15PM
Nothing is certain except death and taxes, as the old saying goes. So there is a chance that 'Game of Thrones' won't run for years on HBO. But based on what the network's executives said Thursday to the media at the Television Critics Association press tour, 'GoT' fans shouldn't be too worried about the show having a short life span.

HBO executive Richard Plepler put it plainly: "We told George we would go as long as he kept writing."

George is George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which the TV show is based. After the remarks from Plepler and fellow HBO executive Michael Lombardo below, I've got a long excerpt from an interview I did with Martin at Comic-Con last week. But first, there's more on what the executives said about 'Game of Thrones' future at TCA press tour.

The executives' positive statements are good news for fans of 'Game of Thrones,' but at the Thursday HBO session, critic Ellen Gray raised the specter of 'Deadwood,' a period piece with a fervent following that ended in a sudden and mystifying way well before fans (and possibly even creator David Milch) were ready to let it go.

But Lombardo said that there was no reason to think that 'Game of Thrones' would have that kind of fate, as long as the show's creators wanted to keep making it and fans kept supporting it.

"The good news is, as long as they want to keep doing it, and as long as they're achieving what they did this season in terms of [being] happy with the result, there's a lot of storytelling to tell," Lombard said. "So I think it's actually invigorating rather than daunting" to take on this seven-book series by Martin (the fifth book in the series just came out and it's atop best-seller lists all over the world).

During the Q&A with executives, I asked a question that had been on my mind since the show's second season had been announced. If the show's other flagship dramas typically got 12 episodes per season, why did 'Game of Thrones' only get 10? The next book in Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire' series is substantially longer, so my hope had been that next season would be longer as well (Martin expressed a similar sentiment in the interview excerpt below).

"If we could do twelve episodes of 'Game of Thrones,' we would," Lombardo said. "They are already in production on the second season. They had to start writing early to actually produce those shows at the level of execution they need, and deliver in time, so we're not asking a consumer to wait more than a year, which we've decided is a mistake. There is no way they could physically do more than ten without us making a decision to dilute the quality of the execution, to have [executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] be less hands-on, which is not, again, what we're about. So I fully appreciate it. I think the only good news is, I hope it lasts for 20 years. You know, I can promise you we won't stop it before it's ready to stop."

I noted that my concern was that, with only 10 hours in a season, the danger would be for 'Game of Thrones' to race from plot point to plot point and not be able to spend as much time on the characters, who are among the great strengths of Martin's books.

Lombardo noted that he hadn't read the books, but he added that Benioff and Weiss "have the same concerns and issues, at the same time they're fully committed to being hands-on, and executing them in the way that the show deserves... What we're looking at this season, for instance, is the production challenges for this particular season far exceed even what we've looked at last season."

Of course, it's worth noting that only a second season has been officially commissioned at this point. But as Gray noted, now that fans are committed to the show, "it can't finish in the middle."

"Nor do we expect it to, nor do we want it to," Plepler said.

Lombardo added, "I don't know where the show for us ends as opposed to the books. It maybe would be fantastic to be able to say, this show will go on for 10 years and do every aspect of the books. I don't know that that will be the case."

As Lombardo noted, HBO is not really a network that changes showrunners. Once it's gotten into business with a particular team making a particular show, the network sticks with that combination.

"I think the show has not only performed well, they seem engaged," Lombardo noted. "I think the challenge for us is always, how long do the creators want to stay on a show?... We're doing this the same as without any predetermined idea of the number of seasons that we can do this. And Dan and David have signed on for a couple years. And we're going to have that conversation with them every couple years. So knock on wood, this show continues."

What follows is an excerpt from a long interview with Martin that took place last week at Comic-Con. We discussed many 'Game of Thrones' matters, and I should point out that he was very happy with the show, the cast and the adaptation by Benioff and Weiss. But this section, in which we discussed the number of episodes per season and the challenges of adapting such a detailed character piece, seemed most relevant to this story. I'll post the rest of the interview soon.

Maureen Ryan: Were there any divergences from the books that you personally would have loved to have seen and just had to accept that they were just not going to happen? Changes weren't keen on or things you were sorry to lose or what have you?
George R.R. Martin: Yeah, there were. You know, when they adapted the stuff that's in the books, I loved it and most of the new scenes that they added that were not in the books, I loved. My only quibble, and it is a quibble, I think, rather than any serious criticism, is there were scenes I missed. [There were] scenes that didn't make it in at all that were never filmed, that were simply cut in script or never even put in script because we simply did not have the time to include them all. There are a number of little favorite scenes and moments that I would have wanted in the show and was looking forward to. The television viewers, of course, don't even notice that those scenes are missing because none of them were essential scenes.

But the book readers, of course, did notice that those scenes were missing, and that's one of the issues that was discussed on the boards and things like that. For example, there was one scene that comes to mind, the scene that sets up the confrontation by the river where Joffrey confronts the butcher's boy and Arya beats him up and all that. There's a scene before where Sansa says, "Well, the Queen's invited us to eat lemon cakes." And Arya says, "I don't like the Queen, I'm going out with Mycah," and also says, you know, "Oh, I've been hanging around with that butcher's boy," and they have this little moment there.

And, you know, it obviously is not an essential scene. But it sets up what follows nicely and it's a great character piece for two girls. And the reason I particularly miss that one is that was the audition scene. I've seen both Maisie and Sophie perform that scene and nail that scene in their audition tape. So I was really looking forward to seeing them do it in costume and all that. And then, of course, it got cut for [various] reasons.

I think that's what I felt was missing at times in the earlier episodes, those character moments. You come to know those people so richly and so deeply in the books that you want those little moments of conversation that maybe don't seem essential but give you insight into their relationships and their dilemmas and their personalities. And that's the thing where I just want more than 10 hours per season from HBO.
Well, you know, I've said that before, so that's no secret. I would have liked more than 10 hours too. I would have liked 12 hours, even more so for the second season. But it's guess there's a question of expense. You know, the other HBO shows do have 12 hours. It would have been nice if we also had 12 hours.

Is it just purely a matter of budget?
I think so, yeah. I mean, our budget is pretty big as is, but you'd really have to ask David and Dan about that. I don't know quite what goes on behind the scenes there and they're in the discussions with HBO. And maybe it is a matter of scheduling too. Maybe they only had 10 hours free on Sunday night between the end of 'Big Love' and the beginning of 'True Blood,' I don't know. I don't know, but for whatever reason, that's what they went with.

I read most of the reviews but I get confused about who said what, I don't remember who it was -- I don't know whether it was something you said or some other critic said. The critical reaction to the show was overwhelmingly positive, but there were some critics in the early episodes particularly who felt they were slow and that word was used. Now, I don't agree. I didn't feel that, but some people said that.

If we insert more character moments, the people who thought that it was slow may think it's even slower. So I don't know, I don't think it was slow. I mean, 'The Sopranos' didn't have a whacking every week, you know? I guess there was always the danger of a whacking, I guess it had a certain tension. But there were many character-based shows [on HBO] and so forth.

Martin also talked about the ninth episode of the second season, which he has written, and how challenging that will be on the budget front (don't read on if you haven't read the second book in the 'Song of Ice and Fire' series):

"I've written the Blackwater episode and it's now in David and Dan's hands and they're trying to figure out how to film it, how much of it will be filmed. I've already made some cuts from the battle as portrayed in the book and probably more cuts will have to be made. But hopefully, we'll still get some sort of an exciting battle there. But it's very difficult. The Blackwater in particular contains every element designed to make it a nightmare, you know. There are thousands of characters. There are gigantic trebuchets. There is a river. There's partly a naval battle. There are horses, a huge numbers of horses. A lot of characters involved. There's fire."

But, as Martin has pointed out in previous interviews, his 'Song of Ice and Fire' series was, in part, a response to years of working in television and having to scale down his imagination so that his ideas would work within a TV budget. He spoke at length about those kinds of things in this 2010 interview.

Look for more from my recent interview with Martin in early August.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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July 31 2011 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really hope this show gets many seasons---at least enough the give the series a proper ending. D&D know how the story ends for all the characters so even if they don't follow the books exactly or end the series before the final book is out I think that will be OK as long as they have a vision for how to get to that ending.

As good as season 1 was, I am even more excited for S2. Many new characters that I can't wait to see on screen.

July 30 2011 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David F

Since season two is still being called "Game of Thrones" and not "Clash of Kings" what is the requirement that they fully complete the 2nd novel during that season? There are any number of points prior to the end of that book that they could end the season in 10 episodes and not have to cram in or lose material. Then just pick up "Thrones" in season 3 where you left of in "Clash of Kings". This also helps to extend the time the GRRM has to finish the written series.

July 29 2011 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Deadwood is different because the creator walked away didn't he? I thought Milch left to do that John in Cincinnati show?

July 29 2011 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kal3d's comment

My memory is that Milch was ready to do more Deadwood, and after the cancellation, HBO picked up "John in Cincinnati" as a sort of consolation prize.

And even with GoT, the network executives are careful to say "so long as the fans support the show...." it will go on. Even on premium cable, the numbers matter!

July 29 2011 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Milch wanted to do John from Cincinatti and give Deadwood a rest for a year and then return to do the fourth and final season. However, all of HBO's contracts with the actors expired at the end of S3 and it was too expensive to put them on retainer to come back a year later. So the show ended.

For some reason, no critic or interviewer I've seen has ever asked Milch, "Why not delay John from Cincinatti for a year and finish off Deadwood first?" Seems an obvious question to ask.

July 29 2011 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Werthead's comment

Oh I see. Thanks for clearing it up for me. It still remains one of my most painful tv moments..that season 3 cliffhanger..ugh ;)

July 29 2011 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Never heard this version before but it sounds credible. Thanks for the info!

July 29 2011 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

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