HBO’s future is all about expansion, but that doesn’t mean it’s desperate for content. With a mandate from corporate parent company AT&T to increase original programming by 50 percent, the network is exploring multiple ways to grow its successful franchises without sacrificing quality.
First priority: “Game of Thrones.” With the billion-dollar flagpole series set to end in 2019 (Season 8 premieres April 14), HBO commissioned five spinoff series and has only ordered one to the pilot phase so far: Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin’s untitled prequel, which is set to begin production “early” this summer.
And that may be it for a while.
“We want to get that one started,” Bloys told IndieWire, adding: “You know, I’m not sure that we’ll do another one.”
In line with previous statements, Bloys said the network put the other “Game of Thrones” projects “aside” to focus on the SJ Clarkson-directed prequel pilot. Once that’s off the ground, HBO might re-approach other series in the “Game of Thrones” universe.
“But I’m not looking to make HBO just the home of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequels, or sequels, or anything like that,” Bloys said. “I think it’s a very exciting and rich world that we’re lucky enough to have, but I’m not looking to overdo it. I’m not looking to overpopulate. Only if it is really well done and interesting and exciting [will we proceed with another spinoff].”
Another successful property is “True Detective.” Even after a disappointing second season, Nic Pizzolatto’s third season (now airing) has pulled in strong viewership and more favorable reviews. Quentin Schaffer, HBO’s executive VP of corporate Communications, announced Friday that ratings are approaching 8 million viewers across platforms.
So is Season 4 on the horizon?
“Nic, I think, is percolating ideas, and I think we’ll approach it the same way we did Season 3: If he has an idea he’s excited about and wants to write, we’re open to that, but I’m not going to rush him. I’m not going to say, ‘We need something in January 2020, so hurry up,’ because I don’t think you get a writer’s best work when doing that. So I think right now, Nic is enjoying the response to the show — that it’s been well received — and then we’ll take his lead.”
While all signs point to that being the best-possible scenario for delivering quality work — Season 2, after all, was rushed into production — it’s not the best-case scenario for growing the”True Detective” brand. Three and a half years lapsed between Seasons 2 and 3, a long time for TV fans. Though it’s persevered with viewers, its ability to withstand another lengthy break between seasons has inspired speculation if HBO could bring in another writer and/or director to take the lead, with Pizzolatto overseeing in some capacity.
“In between Season 2 and Season 3, we had conversations about that,” Bloys said. “But honestly, I feel it’s so much Nic’s voice. Could you [bring in another writer]? Maybe. But it feels to me that if Nic has something he wants to do that’s probably the way to go. And all of this is theoretical, because he’s percolating his ideas.”
As HBO grows its digital streaming service, HBO Now, some have wondered if it will mimic strategies from streaming competitors, like releasing full seasons at once or releasing series exclusively on digital. Bloys had a simple answer to both ideas: “No,” and “No.”
“I believe that the way we do it, to me and to our creators, is the best of both worlds,” he said. “The thing that’s nice about a weekly release is that you’re in the cultural conversation for eight or 10 weeks. You have an entire industry of people who write about and critique television, and enjoy doing it. You engage with your fans on a weekly basis.”
Bloys also pointed to shows like “Westworld,” “Sharp Objects,” and “Succession” that saw viewership boosts week-to-week because of good word of mouth. “I don’t think you get that benefit when you release things all at once.”
“What we’re seeing more and more are premiere night ratings are less and less important,” he said. “A lot of people will wait four weeks and then catch up. The way we’ve introduced it into the television landscape remains: If you want to binge you can, or you can watch it week-to-week.”
Finally, Bloys said there is no update on the drama series “Confederate.” From “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, as well as executive producers, Nichelle Tramble Spellman, and Malcolm Spellman, the hourlong series greenlit in July 2017 faced immediate backlash to its core conceit: a story in which the North lost the American Civil War and slavery still exists in the modern-day United States.
Given the accusations of racial insensitivity hurled at “Game of Thrones” over its first six seasons, the sensitive nature of the central story, as well as the race of the creators, “Confederate” has been mired in controversy since its announcement. But Bloys said HBO is still planning on making the series; it’s just waiting on the producers to become available.
“What we’re dealing with with ‘Confederate’ is everyone is very busy,” Bloys said. “I believe Nichelle has her Apple show [‘Are You Sleeping,’ starring Octavia Spencer], Malcolm had an Amazon show [‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’], but I don’t know what he’s doing on that. Dan and Dave are finishing up ‘Game of Thrones’ and then they’re going in to do the ‘Star Wars’ movies. So when they come back to us and say, ‘We’re ready,’ we’re here. But they’re figuring out all their other projects.”
Benioff and Weiss have previously announced they will not be part of the “Game of Thrones” prequel pilot or spinoff, so their continued collaboration with HBO hinges on “Confederate” — barring another series taking its place on the priority list.