Jeff Bezos demands Amazon make him a Game of Thrones-sized hit

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Game of Thrones is a very popular show, and with the season 7 finale scoring more viewers than any episode before, it looks like it’s only going to get more popular.

Naturally, the TV industry has taken notice. Speaking to Variety, Amazon Studios chief Roy Price recently revealed that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently gave the company’s video division new marching orders: basically, bring me the next Game of Thrones.

“I do think ‘Game of Thrones’ is to TV as ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ was to the movies of the 1970s,” Price said. “It’ll inspire a lot of people. Everybody wants a big hit and certainly that’s the show of the moment in terms of being a model for a hit.”

"The biggest shows make the biggest difference around the world. If you have one of the top five or 10 shows in the marketplace, it means your show is more valuable because it drives conversations and it drive subscriptions. … We’re a mass-market brand. We have a lot of video customers and we need shows that move the needle at a high level."

I understand that Amazon wants its video arm to be successful, and that modeling shows off the biggest thing on TV right now is one strategy to achieve that. To hear Variety tell it, Amazon is changing its strategy to focus on more broadly popular shows in general, canceling programs like Z: The Beginning of Everything (a biography about Zelda Fitzgerald starring Christina Ricci) and hiring Fox executive Tal Yguado to manage a unit focused on sci-fi, fantasy, and genre shows. One of Yguado’s first big moves was to ink a deal with Robert Kirkman, the guy behind The Walking Dead. “We’re very interested in getting those top shows — something that is broadly popular and admired,” Price said. “We want to allocate a lot of our attention and resources going forward to that kind of thing.”

But here’s the thing about that: are you ever going to make a hit show by aping another hit show? I agree with Price that, in terms of influence, you could compare what Game of Thrones is doing for TV now with what Star Wars and Jaws did for movies in the ’70s. Those movies, which were full of flash and spectacle, invented the blockbuster. They inspired studios to think bigger, and kickstarted a love of popular genre fare that’s still playing out today.

But before Star Wars came on the scene, no one knew it was going to be a game-changer. By the same token, no one knew that Harry Potter would change publishing beforehand. No one knew The Beatles would revolutionize pop music before the revolution was well under way. Every huge success starts as a risk, including Game of Thrones. If Amazon wants to have the next big thing, it’s not going to do it by chasing the last big thing — it’ll do it by finding something people didn’t know they wanted.

Again, I get that a show as successful as Game of Thrones would inspire imitators. We’ve seen several rise and fall already — FX’s The Bastard Executioner, ITV’s Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Netflix’s Marco Polo, etc. There are also more successful shows that, while not ripping off Game of Thrones, may not have seen the light of day if Thrones hadn’t proved that epic fantasy drama could be extremely popular — think Starz’s Outlander. But none of those have revolutionized TV like Thrones has. How could they, when they are — to some extent — living in Thrones’ shadow?

Game of Thrones is ending in a year (or two). After it’s over, I’ll be very curious to see what rocks TV next. But whatever it is, I doubt it’ll look much like Thrones. And if Amazon is pursuing this strategy, I kind of doubt it’ll be on Amazon.

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