HBO Speculation

Evaluating the competition

With little news coming out regarding the Game of Thrones pilot, it seems like a good time to evaluate the progress of the other pilots over at HBO. When the Thrones pilot was first greenlit, it was revealed by James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter that Thrones would be competing with about 10 other pilots, all vying for a full series pick up. At the time I posted a list of the pilots that had already been ordered by HBO, which was compiled by Ran over at the Westeros forums. Let’s go through that list again and see what the status of each project is and how it may affect Game of Thrones.

The Washingtonienne – Pilot has already been filmed. Awaiting decision from HBO. I’d say this one has a good chance at getting picked up. Should find an audience with Sex and the City fans due to similar subject matter and the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker is producing it.

Treme – Casing for the pilot is continuing with shooting scheduled to begin on March 9. Another series with an excellent chance at getting picked up. Fans of The Wire will certainly be interested to see what David Simon has in store as a follow up to his critically acclaimed series.

Boardwalk Empire – Casting seems to be winding down for this one. No word on shooting date, but I expect it to start soon. With an impressive cast, a script from one of The Sopranos‘ head writers and a film legend behind the lens, I would be shocked if this isn’t picked up.

Hung – Series has been picked up by HBO. The order is for ten episodes.

Last of the Ninth – This project has already been passed on by HBO.

Suburban Shootout – Pilot is filmed. Awaiting decision from HBO. HBO has been sitting on this one for a while so it might already be dead. Probably is not in contention with Thrones either way.

Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl – Pilot was ordered by HBO last March, but there seems to have been no casting news since then. Could be the project is dead. Possibly due to a very similar series already airing over at Showtime.

Untitled Kanye West Project – Pilot has been filmed. Awaiting decision from HBO. According to series creator Larry Charles, the show may be “too hardcore” for HBO. No official word from HBO but apparently the new management that took over a few months back aren’t very enthusiastic about the project.

Bored to Death – Series has been picked up by HBO. The order is for eight episodes.

Gentlemen of Leisure – Pilot was greenlit back in the summer. No word of casting or filming yet. Seems they may have met some opposition about filming in Oakland from the mayor who doesn’t want to portray the city in a bad light. No word if this has killed the project.

How to Make it in America – Picked up by HBO for an eight episode order.

In addition to these projects there were a few that were announced after the Thrones pilot was greenlit.

Untitled Maria Bello Project – An hour-long drama showing a woman who’s forced into a life of crime to support her three teenage sons after her husband is killed. Maria Bello is set to star and exec produce, no other casting news yet. Script is being handled by Gary Lennon (The Shield).

The Wonderful Maladys – Series revolving around the dysfunctional lives of three adult siblings who lost their parents at a young age, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Pilot was ordered in Sept. and was expected to shoot early 2009. No word on any other casting or a specific filming date.

The Review – A comedy set around the stock market crash of 1987, written by Andy Bellin. Pilot was ordered a couple days after Thrones. No other news since then.

Scar Tissue – Series based on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis’ childhood, produced by Marc Abrams and Michael Benson. Pilot was ordered, but as of right now the producers are still trying to get a writer to pen the pilot script.

Untitled Ellen Barkin Project – Starring and produced by Ellen Barkin, show centers on her character reentering the dating scene following her husband’s death and developing a platonic friendship with her 20-something stepson. Script is still in the works, no casting (outside of Barkin obviously) yet.

Untitled Oprah Winfrey Project(s) – HBO signed a three-year development deal with Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Films. The deal allows for documentaries, movies and TV series. No specific projects have been announced however.

Winter Is Coming: A lot of stuff in the pipeline for HBO. It looks like they may be set with comedies for now. Thrones wasn’t really in contention with any of them anyway. The hour-long dramas are going to be their direct competition. Empire, Treme, Leisure and the Maria Bello project all fit into that category. Leisure seems to be in limbo and the Maria Bello project is still in the process of getting a script. That leaves Empire and Treme, both of which are close to filming. Does HBO want to pick up all three of these shows? If not, which will be the odd one (or two) out?


  • You forgot Year Zero, perhaps what’s left of GOT’s most direct competition. No pilot has been announced for that one however. It should also be noted that GOT was chosen over The Preacher series – GOT’s strongest genre competition yet, imho.

  • Anon: Yeah, I only included projects that have received a pilot order. If Year Zero gets picked up it will probably become competition for Thrones.

    And yes, beating out The Preacher series is a positive. There was also talk of a King Arthur series in development at HBO as well, but it seems that Thrones beat that out also. The biggest hurdle still remains though, a full series order.

  • I can’t believe people are still interested in rehashing the King Arthur crap still. There have been scores of books and so many movies about that.

  • Some day will come a time when a good retelling of Arthur on screen will be warranted, but the last few attempts have been average to lame. Excalibur is the only really strong one that I’ve ever seen. Everything else has been forgettable at best.

    Give it another decade and someone will try again but until then, they’d be dumb to make another go at it.

  • Boardwalk Empire= You can spray paint turd red and its not a rose,its still a turd. I dont care what actor you throw in this series. If its written by any one who did Sopranos its going to be a crap show. I stopped watching Sopranos after the second season when I figured out how their scripting worked. Lets write a whole season where nothing happens and then throw a shocker in the end. I feel sorry for the bastards who actually kept up with this show and waited around for the ending where no surprise……. nothing fucking happened. I remember just watching one episode of the Shield and saying, now this is what a crime show should be like.

  • My fav King Arthur story is Merlin with Sam Neil.

    With GOT. Shouldn’t it just be a front runner without Pilot because of the already existing fan base? HBO should know how big the fan base is, and that they will get those viewers at the minimum.

  • How big is the fan base exactly? I know there are a bunch of us rabid GoT freaks out there, but really how much buzz is the prospect of an HBO series based on ASoIaF creating? I know its early in the process but if the series does get picked up I sure hope the HBO marketing department finds a way to stir up more intrest than I have see to date.
    Furthermore, I have always contended that the people responsible for the marketing of the books ought to be thrown out of the Moon Door. If I have to see one more person guided past Martin to the Wheel of Time by a clueless Barnes and Noble employee I’m going to cry. I quite literally do step in between them and introduce them to GoT. I’ve done it at least ten times and will do it more as the opportunity arises.
    Sadly, it seems like I am doing more to promote the books sometimes than the publisher. In recent years Martin’s books seem to slowly be gaining in popularity, but I’m still flabergasted by the number of folks who consider themselves fantasy fans that have never read his stuff.
    The author himself does nothing to help his cause when he gets bogged down in Wildcards, Dreamsongs and countless other projects while the next offering in the series that put him on the map remains incomplete.
    Sorry to sound a bit pessimistic. I’m just getting tired of waiting with baited breath for any little snippet of news about the books. Lately it seems as if the folks responsible for the series are following suit. Bottom line for me in this thread though is that a large existing fan base in my opinion isn’t one of the major things GoT has going for it. The material itself is the major selling point. Now if George could get it together and get Dance published with a “Soon to be an HBO series” blurb on the cover, then we might start to see a fan base knocking on the door.

  • well put lordnedshead. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read the wheel of time before I was introduced to GRRM by my college roommate. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think WoT was the greatest fantasy series ever…. untill around book 6 when the main chars (the only ones I was interested in) took a back seat to the pov chapters of cliche, stereotypical, boring females and forgettable aes sedai. It wasn’t untill ASoIF that I realized how boring and substanceless WoT was after about the 3rd book. “Good vs. Evil, that’s original.” Not knocking RJ’s writing ability, I just think he got a little carried away (as much as I enjoy reading about characters who are infallably good-you know, except for perrin’s annoying obsession for his wife and Rand’s knack for pushing people away so he can focus on sprinting to his supposed martyrdom- who always seem to triumph regardless of the odds against them). As for the idea to put an ad on the cover of the new book promoting the hbo series (providing it gets picked up), excellent idea.

  • I agree with Lordnedshead, I don't think the fan base is as big as we like to think. How many books has GRRM sold? Has it even topped a million? How many of those people would be big enough fans to even know that they are making an HBO series? Two-thirds? Half? A few hundred thousand people is not much when it comes to TV ratings.

    On top of that, you have to consider that many, many people will be attracted to Empire because of Martin Scorsese. While the book the series is based on may not have the recognition that Ice & Fire has, I suspect that the millions of people that consider themselves fans of Scorsese's work outnumber the fan base of Martin's series.

  • I agree with WinterIsComing’s words:”I don’t think the fan base is as big as we like to think.”…

  • I am usually on the westros boards, but I am excited for Boardwalk…but only if it airs along side ASoIF. There is no way I dish out money for HBO unless ASoIF is on it.

    On the fan base note…yeah Its hard finding people who have read it. I personally have turned 2-3 people into fanatics and try to get people to read the books every chance I get. It doesnt help that George gets distracted so easily and cant finish, but then…he did that before SoS and that was by far the best of the series.

    If anything I am excited for this project…hopefully with the success of series like Robin Hood and the Tudors, then HBO will give ASoIF a real shot.

  • 4 million certainly is impressive. Does any one know how much of that is in the US?

    I still feel that the fan base for Martin pales in comparison to the fan base for Scorsese though.

  • While I agree that the 4 million mark is likely nowhere near the number of people who consider themselves Scorsese fans, I wonder how many people who enjoy his movies and who don’t currently subscribe to HBO would pick up the channel just to follow along with his latest pet project.

    Of course, if it reaches the ‘critically acclaimed’ status, all bets are off.

  • I would like to point out True Blood as a perfect example of how a relatively unknown book has turned into a great series. It premiered with 1.4 million viewers and nearly doubled that for the finale. I could see ASOIF doing the same if not better.

  • Frankly, if GoT is in direct competition with Boardwalk and Treme then its chances of being picked up are practically nil. Let’s hope that’s not the case…

  • I love Scorsese, but I would not get HBO just to see his Boardwalk Empire. I would however subscribe for A Song of Ice and Fire. And while Martin’s books may not have as many fans, don’t discount the people who flocked to the Lord of the Rings movies, or the people who are fans of well written TV that’s intended for adults. I think you’re gonna draw in a lot of Tru Blood viewers, fantasy fans, people sick of network schlock, fans of shows like the Sopranos and The Wire, people who watched Rome and the Tudors, people who watch BBC shows.

    In my opinion this show could work out very well for HBO.

  • Big fan of the Ice and Fire books, but like many above, I knew *nothing* of them until I was turned on to them by other friends (strange enough, two separate friends at almost the same time).

    I totally agree w/ the bad marketing of the books. I never knew anything about them; I had walked by them on the shelves – they were very bland covers, nobody was trumpeting them, GRRMartin was, to me, more of an editor, and an SF editor at that.

    And I had been a Wild Cards fan 10 or so years ago, before it collapsed under its own weight.

    But I think that people are more willing to accept a fantasy story than we think. The key is that it is done well, with a compelling storyline and good characters. That is what people expect out of HBO dramas.

    For modern “weirdness” look at: Six Feet Under, Lost, True Blood – pretty strange shows that require a big suspension of disbelief, but are getting strong reception from modern audiences. How well known the source is will have little to do with how it is received.

    And don’t forget, the world of Westeros has very little magic being thrown around, especially initially. It’s mostly background, prophecy, that kinda stuff. You don’t have wizards throwing fireballs at goblins. Lots of intrigue, wrangling for power, etc.

    I mean, look at the title – A Game of Thrones. That’s what people are gonna tune in for. The soap opera aspect.

  • Anon: It’s just a rumor at this point. Despite that site stating that it was a done deal, even the supposed HBO insider that the rumor stems from stated that it wasn’t concrete. So no, it is not for real… yet.

    Although that link did give me a great picture that I will be using if and when it becomes official!

  • Thank you for the explanation. I almost suffer a heart attack. I wish that you can use that picture in the future.

  • I didn’t knew Bored to Death was picked up. Nice surprise, it sounds promising enough and doesn’t seem to collide with GOT in anyway.

    Martin’s following is nowhere near as big as Scorsese’s, but I definitely think a aSoIaF series has huge potential. Hope to find out more soon.

  • 4 million copies ain’t bad. I remember back in the mid-1980’s when I first read LotR the books said on them, “Over 12 million copies in print!” So that was 12 million for 3 books in 30 years (it’s now over a hundred million after the films). Martin has sold 4 million of 4 books over 12 years – he’s doing pretty okay with that by any standard and if the series gets made, I have no doubt that tally will go up by a LOT. Just the appearance of trailer of “Watchmen” caused them to sell 350,000 copies of that graphic novel in the very next week alone. If the series is a hit and captures peoples’ imaginations, Martin could easily leap into the 10’s of millions of books sold very quickly.

  • I just saw that Peter Dinklage photo upthread wearing the crown and with the sword at his hip. It’s been a few years but I am pretty sure that is his costume from the production of “Richard III” he did in New York which I saw at the Public Theater (he was very good, the production besides him was not so great).

  • WIC, do we know how the current economic woes might be effecting HBO’s decision making? Can we speculate? When times are hard would you not want to produce something cheaply with lower production costs and minimal CGI and yet with potential for high viewership. Case and point: True Blood.

    In other words this economy might be a deciding factor. Even if the old adage states that people crave escapism when things get rough.

  • I agree entirely: the marketing on ASOIAF fails. I was a fairly devoted fantasy reader for years, and while I occasionally heard someone talking about GoT, I always assumed it was one of those peripheral series with the silly quests and stereotypical warrior girls. I picked up GoT entirely by accident on the way onto an airplane, simply b/c I was in a hurry and the worker in the shop happened to have read it and recommended it to me.

    By now, of course, I’m a rabid fan, and as such, I’m a bit worried about all the competition. It all depends, I suppose, on what HBO sees the series doing for them. If they see it as their medieval/fantasy bid, then it probably has a decent chance, but if they’re looking at it as just another involved action drama, then the project is probably in trouble…

    Does anyone know anything concrete on the King Arthur show? If it’s more serious than it appears, that would be a major threat. Ask a random person on the street, and I guarantee all but the doziest is going to know all about Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, etc. But as has been already established, the Martin fanbase isn’t exactly immense…

  • If GRRM does indeed is able to publish ADWD in September this year as his latest blog entry seems to suggest (latest as in 3 hours old), then I believe that this series will have a 80% chance of being picked up vs. imo 50% chance.

    WinterIsComing – I think GRRM’s latest blog entry would make a great discussion on this blog :]

  • Maybe we should also factor in that Battlestar Galactica is almost finished and there will be cult genre series vacuum. AGoT could well fill that void if done well.

  • Is it set in stone that the series will be called “A Game of Thrones?” Because I think that would be a big mistake. I think that most HBO viewers (myself included, if I hadn’t read the series) would hear that and think, okay, great, it’s a fantasy political intrigue series. Like the Tudors, only fantasy. BFD.

    “A Song of Ice and Fire,” on the other hand, is evocative. It gives you the sense that there is more going on here than just the Starks and the Lannisters having a go at each other. What exactly is the Song of Ice and Fire? Does it have something to do with the Others and the dragons? It hooks the viewer a lot more than “A Game of Thrones,” which is very bland.

  • I disagree, I think for the series "A Game of Thrones" works much better as a title. "A Song of Ice & Fire" is a bit of a mouthful and doesn't say as much about what the story is as does "A Game of Thrones." It's a very strong title – strong enough for the first book in the series – and works well for the show.

    Before it was even announced that "A Game of Thrones" would be the title of the series, I had felt it would be smart to go with that over "A Song of Ice & Fire" for just those reasons. I'm glad they did.

  • I agree with Brude. “A Song of Ice and Fire” is traditional (in a bad way), pompous and quite boring really. It suggests the series is in accordance with WoT, Eddings’ works, Eragon and what have you. In my opinion, it gives a completely wrong impression what kind of books ASoIaF are.

    “A Game of Thrones” is, I think, a dynamic and exciting title. It hints to political manipulations, power, and stuff like that. It probably also attracts people who like period dramas while Ice and Fire would woo only hc-fantasy fans

  • The series has sold 2.5 million copies in the USA alone. Traditionally you double that to find the international sales, but ASoIaF is unusual in that it was a bigger success, relative to the size of the market, in Europe than it was in the USA for some time. I would estimate that total worldwide sales of the series are now somewhere north of five million, maybe closer to six, and accelerating. ADWD will no doubt add many more fans to the series as well.

    That’s about 1-1.5 million people worldwide who have read each book in the series (although there’s likely more for AGoT, assuming some people decided not to carry on with the series), which is just about scraping even with Goodkind and is some way ahead of Brooks, Eddings or Feist, but behind Jordan and Pratchett by a considerable distance.

    This makes the lack of interest in a Jordan series more bemusing. Say what you will about the quality of the books (and seriously, if ABC are prepared to film Goodkind, why wouldn’t someone consider Jordan?), they’re massively popular and successful with a dedicated and large international fanbase that would make a TV series a big success. Red Eagle’s insistence on making it a movie trilogy and losing 90% of the plot is utterly bemusing.

    Back to AGoT: that’s about 500,000-750,000 people in the USA who have read the first book by itself and may be interested in tuning in. That’s not guaranteed of course, but is a decent base to build from.

  • “Is it set in stone that the series will be called “A Game of Thrones?” Because I think that would be a big mistake. I think that most HBO viewers would hear that and think, okay, great, it’s a fantasy political intrigue series. Like the Tudors, only fantasy. BFD.”

    Having read the books, that sounds to be an accurate desciption of them: Fantasy medival political intrigue. See, title works perfectly.

    “”A Song of Ice and Fire,” on the other hand, is evocative.”
    It makes me think of a barbarian guy dressed in furs with a lyre reciting poetry. None of that sounds like the actual books, other than wearing furs in the North.

    The other two potential titles “Storm of Swords” and “Clash of Kings”, Storm sounds like its all epic battles, so you get people watching it for action who are then disappointed because the early action quotient is low, and Clash leaves out Dany, who would be a Queen. So Game of Thrones works best and covers everything from gossip to sex to physical battles to dynastic marriages.

  • I tried to send an email but it seems it didn’t work, so I’m posting the contents here:

    Hello WinterIsComing, I found a posting at the Westeros Forum that really, really worries me, simply because I fear the author may be correct. All this time I had a feeling that HBO would be completely braindead to pass on ASOIAF, but now I’m not so sure anymore. They also completely lost faith in “Carnivale”, another show with fantastic elements and an uncommon setting. What do you think?

    Here’s the posting:

    “Everyone is assuming Game of Thrones has no competition because there aren’t any other fantasy/speculative titles on offer. That’s a bad way to judge things. We should be more worried by that fact, as it means HBO isn’t keen on fantasy in general. Every other pilot is direct competition for that spot, irrespective of genre or format.

    Things are looking bad for GoT.”

  • HBO aren’t keen on fantasy? They’ve done them in the past (Carnivale being the most notable example). EPIC fantasy simply hasn’t been done on TV at all (Goodkind excepted), so I can see why HBO are being cautious and going the pilot route rather than commissioning a full series.

    Most of the competition consists of untried, unknown original productions, some of them with big names attached. AGoT is a proven, popular, successful property with guaranteed co-funding from the BBC. It’s a surer bet than some of the other pilots on the list, that’s for sure.

  • I feel that since GOT has yet to film the pilot IMO HBO maybe looking for a show to take over after some of the already picked shows are over. I mean after all an HBO show runs for what 10-12 episodes. Then they pickup say GOT to follow those completed shows. I feel that GOT has a shot at being picked up for this reason. I had never heard of GRRM or ASOIAF. I was on a business trip was bored. I found GOT in a used book store and thought I would give it a try. I was hooked and could not put down the book down. If HBO picks up the series count me in.

  • I agree that “A Game of Thrones” is a buzzkill title for an HBO series. Actually, I think “Winter Is Coming” would be a much better series title.

  • Well now what I’m wondering, as I am rereading this being newsthirsty and wanting to sooth my nerves, is if you Winter have any news on the shows listed above!!??
    What is their status now?? And what are their prognosis?? How is ASOIF doing in the competition?! C
    onsidering some are already filmed and (guessing) now being heavily marketed.

    Jeez, and about the name? Admittedly, calling it “ASOIF” would catch MY attention far more easily than “AGOT”, but then it has more dynamic – for the all-around purpose of reaching people ouside the fanbase. It perks up interest. “What’s that?” “Did you see AGOT last night – frakking ;) awesome!!”

    (Ps. Helfer would be DEAD WRONG in this, not pretty enough, too old – yikes that creeps me out to say about that business when it is what it is, and too occupied anyway even though she is not as bad an actress as I had her pegged for at first)

    Would also like to say how great is feels that the commentary on this forum hold such a good standard. Maybe Winter is good at weeding out the bad weeds, but I’d rather like to think it’s because this is Us. WE are the kind of people who love ASOIAF, we see it for what is is, we have it under our skin, in our blood, and I sometimes don’t want him to finish ever. Let a vampire bite him, so he can keep writing this saga…