HBO CEO Richard Plepler gives update on Game of Thrones prequel series


HBO is at a crossroads. The network’s most popular series, a little show called Game of Thrones, is currently filming its final season, and despite a lineup of other intriguing shows either on the horizon or on the rise —  think WestworldBig Little Lies, and Jordan Peele’s upcoming Lovecraft Country — Thrones has no clear successor, success-wise. And with the network facing increased competition from heavy-hitters like Apple and Amazon, some people are worried about its future. “They’re still the blue-chip company, but they’ve been knocked off their perch a little bit,” a high-ranking executive with a show in development at HBO told The Washington Post. “There’s so much competition that it just puts them in a tricky spot.”

What does HBO CEO Richard Plepler think of all this? Speaking at Business Insider’s annual Ignition: Future of Media conference, he said he’s not worried, bringing up shows like Succession, Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of Watchmen and the third season of True Detective as things to look forward to.* “I don’t know which of them turns into gold—maybe they all turn into gold—but we’re working with people we believe in. We trust them.”

That approach — trusting your talent to make a good show without knowing whether it’ll be a massive hit — puts HBO at odds with a company like Amazon, which made waves recently when it bought the rights to make a Lord of the Rings TV series for $250 million, committing to five seasons before casting has even taken place. Whereas Amazon is trying manufacture “the next Game of Thrones” (i.e. the next massively successful TV show), Plepler is content to try different things and see what works.

That’s an extension of how HBO was conducting business back when Thrones first premiered, and Plepler is quick to point out that no one knew how big it was going to get when it began. “Anyone who tells you we knew that Thrones was going to be Thrones is completely full of shit,” he said. “You don’t know that. You never know where the next great thing is.”

That may have been why HBO declined to bid on the TV rights to Lord of the Rings when the opportunity arose. “I’d rather own our IP 100 percent, like we do with Thrones, and I’d rather have the ability to work with a product that is inextricably linked to our brand, and then monetize that out across the world,” Plepler explained.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 06: (L-R) HBO CEO Richard Plepler and writer/producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff attend the 17th annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

All that said, HBO is developing five separate prequels to Game of Thrones, so it’s not above trading on the show’s success. Although to hear Plepler tell it, all five of those ideas sprung up independently of the desire to rake in cash. He stressed that “we’re not going out and saying, ‘Go find us a prequel to Game of Thrones.’” Instead, the creatives at the network were “coming to us and saying, ‘We have an idea.’”

Okay, sure, but you didn’t prod them at all to come up with a follow-up to your most successful series ever? Not even a little bit? Really?

In any case, development on the prequels is moving along. Plepler said that five “bibles” had been submitted to the network, including “a couple…that we’re particularly high on.” I never expected more than one or two of those shows to actually get made, and it sounds like HBO is narrowing down its pick. As long as it treats what prequel(s) it chooses to make with respect, I’ll look forward to it.

Next: Jason Momoa: Game of Thrones season 8 will be “the greatest thing that’s ever aired on TV”

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*Interestingly, Plepler doesn’t bring up Confederate, a new series from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss that will explore an alternate history where the Civil War was fought to a standstill and slavery is still legal. That show caused a huge backlash when it was announced, so it makes sense to downplay it. According to The Washington Post, Confederate is still in development, but “the creators are not actively working on it.”

h/t AdWeek