AT&T exec asked Game of Thrones bosses if they could shoot the show vertically, for phones

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss reveal the requests they got towards the end of the series, and the requests they made that were rejected.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – Photo: Courtesy of HBO
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – Photo: Courtesy of HBO /

Game of Thrones was the biggest show of the 2010s, a lavish fantasy epic adapted from the pages of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It was unapologetically complex and mature, with tons of characters and placenames to learn, not to mention scenes of brutal violence to endure. It raised the bar for how good special effects could look on television, and many shows are still being made in its image.

But as huge as Game of Thrones was, it was still vulnerable to ridiculous, doofy requests from corporate overlords, as showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss revealed in a recent profile in The Wall Street Journal. According to them, an executive from AT&T — which then owned studio Warner Bros., which owns HBO — asked them if they could shoot new episodes vertically, so they could be easily watched a phone. Executives also broached the idea of making snackable mini-episodes of the series.

AT&T bought Warner Bros. in 2018. The final season of Game of Thrones aired in 2019. So when the show was at the absolute height of its popularity, newly minted executives were openly suggesting to the creators, "Hey, what if we changed everything and the show comes out in five-minute increments viewed in an up-and-down format?" Never underestimate the ability of high-level executives to completely misunderstand the product they're supposed to be selling.

AT&T unloaded Warner Bros. to Discovery a few short years later, in 2021. The company is now called Warner Bros. Discovery, whose CEO David Zaslav has made his own share of controversial decisions, like canceling finished movies without giving them a release. It sounds like this sort of unpredictability is one of the reasons that Benioff and Weiss are now working at Netflix, where they're about to debut their new sci-fi show 3 Body Problem. “When you sign a five-year deal with a company, you want that company to be stable so you can be left alone to do your work and not have to worry about it being bought by the phone company,” Benioff said. “Finding the smoothest ride in the ocean was key.” 

Weiss weighed in, too. “Dysfunction kills more projects than anything else, whether it’s interpersonal dysfunction or institutional dysfunction,” he said. It's weird to think that Netflix is more stable than a legacy media brand like Warner Bros., but with things in Hollywood changing so rapidly and companies being passed around from one owner to the next, it might just be the case.

Yes, the showrunners originally wanted to end Game of Thrones with movies

Benioff and Weiss also touched on a story that's made the rounds a few times since Game of Thrones ended: that the pair of them wanted to end the series with a few theatrical movies, but that HBO said no. As Benioff and Weiss remember it, they were told that they were making shows for the “Home Box Office” not the “Away Box Office.”

A few different versions of this story have circulated over the years. The new one in WSJ makes it sound like Benioff and Weiss wanted to make a trio of movies in place of the final two seasons of Game of Thrones, which ran for 13 episodes total. But the book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers makes it sound like the only wanted to make movies in place of the eighth and final season. I've also heard the suggestion that they wanted to make movies in addition to season 8. Honestly, I don't think the question is settled yet.

One thing I will say: if Benioff and Weiss indeed wanted to make three Game of Thrones movies instead of 13 episodes of TV, I'm glad HBO turned them down. The final season of the show especially was infamously divisive for a number of reasons, but if it had one overarching problem, it's that things felt rushed. The show didn't take time to build up to major turning points, and that's with well over 13 hours of TV to work with. I imagine things would have felt even more compressed and unsatisfying if they were working with three movies, even three long movies. That would give them significantly less time than they got with two seasons of TV, which still wasn't enough.

Benioff and Weiss will be back in the spotlight with 3 Body Problem, which is a project comparable in scale to Game of Thrones. “There’s definitely pressure, but then again, when ‘Thrones’ was coming out, I remember having insomnia and being terrified,” Benioff said. “It’s nerve-racking when it’s your first big thing, and it’s nerve-racking when you’ve been at it for awhile and people are like, ‘Well, do they still have it?’”

We'll find out when 3 Body Problem drops on Netflix on March 21.

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