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HBO Executive Says the Network Has Been Nearly ‘Raped’ by ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Big Little Lies’ Budgets

The premium cable network is spending millions of dollars on new seasons of "Game of Thrones" and "Big Little Lies."

“Game of Thrones”


UPDATE (March 13): Orsi has issued a statement in which she says she regrets using the term “raped.” The statement reads: “Obviously, I am embarrassed by my poor choice of words. We are extremely proud of ‘Big Little Lies’ and excited for the second season.”

HBO drama chief Francesca Orsi and programming president Casey Bloys got brutally honesty during an INTV panel in Jerusalem, Israel (via Deadline) in which they expressed some worry over the network’s skyrocketing budget. Orsi said the network was put in an especially tough spot following the surprise second season renewal of “Big Little Lies,” which was originally conceived at HBO as a one-and-done “limited series.”

“From a budget stand point going into season two of ‘Big Little Lies’ without any options in place we’ve been short of raped,” Orsi said.

The budget for “Big Little Lies” Season 2 has reportedly escalated mainly due to cast salaries. All of the cast members originally signed a one-season deal, which means none of their salaries were locked in place for a potential follow-up run of episodes. Following the Season 2 renewal, the cast was able to negotiate for significant raises. Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, for instance, are reportedly making $1 million an episode in Season 2.

“As a show goes on they get more expensive and as shows get more ambitious they will get more expensive,” Bloys explained. “More money doesn’t always equal better but in some cases the scope of ideas do require it.”

Game of Thrones” is also skyrocketing the network’s budget. The final season of the hit series is estimated to cost at least $15 million per episode, and Orsi said that budget level puts the network in a “conundrum” for the potential spinoffs it is developing. HBO currently has five potential spinoff ideas in development.

“There is a conundrum if we do take off on one of these G’ame of Thrones’ spin-offs, where do we start?” Orsi said. “We can’t obviously start with the budget of season 8 but would it be a ‘Game of Thrones’ season three budget? When we were in Belfast in October, Casey said, ‘It feels like corporate malfeasance’ to not continue it, which is why it’s spawned three, four, five ‘Game of Thrones’ spin offs.”

Competing networks are also forcing HBO into a tough spot to spend more. Witherspoon is now attached to two television projects at Apple and Hulu, for instance, and she was reportedly able to use the amount of money she’s being paid at Apple to negotiate an even higher salary at HBO. But Orsi said HBO is still the preferred choice for prestige offerings when compared to Amazon, Netflix, and other new competitors.

“I don’t want to out some of the partners and producers that we work with but lately a couple of the prestige pieces that have come through our door are passionately saying they want to set it up at HBO because at Amazon they don’t get some of the benefits in marketing or, on ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock,’ they can’t travel the cast to the premiere,” Orsi said. “Amazon is not paying for the travel, which is somewhat of a disgrace and they need to know that and others don’t want to get lost in Netflix.”

Both “Game of Thrones” and “Big Little Lies” are expected to return to HBO with new episodes in 2019.

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