'Shannara' Boss: We're Not Trying to Be 'Game of Thrones'

The Shannara Chronicles - H 2015
Courtesy of MTV

MTV's The Shannara Chronicles isn't trying to be the youth-skewing network's Game of Thrones.

Producers of the fantasy series, which debuted Tuesday, gave credit to the HBO Emmy-winning drama but insisted their show — set in the future — is considerably different.  

"I find it interesting that in a lot of the reviews people were saying, 'It's trying to be Game of Thrones,' and it's actually not," Gough told THR after the show's panel at the Television Critics Association's winter press stop Wednesday. "It would be saying that all these other superhero shows [Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Gotham, etc.] are trying to be Smallville and they're not; they're trying to be their own thing. What Game of Thrones did for television — and I'm a huge fan — is it kicked the doors down and it proved that you could do high-quality, high-level fantasy."

From exec producer Jon Favreau and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar (AMC's Into the Badlands, Smallville), the fantasy series is based on Terry Brooks' international best-selling fantasy novels. The Shannara series first started in 1977 with The Sword of Shannara and encompasses multiple trilogies and a prequel, totaling more than 25 books. Shannara takes place thousands of years after the destruction of our civilization. The story centers on the Shannara family, whose descendants are empowered with ancient magic and whose adventures continuously reshape the future of the world. Poppy Drayton, Austin Butler, Ivana Baquero, Manu Bennett and John Rhys-Davies star.

"With this show, Terry's books are more hopeful, they're definitely more fantasy — you're dealing with elves and trolls and different races and magic — and you're dealing with a quest but you also have a science fiction bent to it," Gough said. "It feels more Star Wars than Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones proved there's a big audience for [fantasy]. This show is different; we're trying to be Shannara, we're not trying to be Game of Thrones."  

Co-star Davies told reporters that he didn't feel that the fantasy genre has reached its plateau on the small screen.

"If it's mined out, we're wasting our bloody time," he said from the stage.

Co-showrunner Millar stressed that Shannara has a different feel and, like many do at TCA, noted that there's "nothing else like it on television."

As for the differences, producers Millar and Gough noted that their series has a push and pull between science and magic.

"Where we fall is they've eschewed human science, which is what cause the destruction [in their world] and magic has come back to the fore," Gough said. "It melds science fiction with fantasy that's grounded in the real world vs. Narnia, Westeros or Middle Earth."  

Added Millar: "We liked the idea of the blending of fantasy and science fiction; that's very unique. World building is about finding unique ways to express that with sets … and costumes. It's fantasy but it has a science fiction edge and that was our goal."

As for MTV, Shannara ranks as the Viacom-owned cable network's most expensive pilot ever. Head of scripted Mina Lefevre told reporters that she hopes Shannara would broaden the younger-skewing network's scope and demographic. "What I love about what they've been able to execute is you have this huge world but the truth is a lot of the characters are relatable to our current audience and a broader audience. It broadens age group — more males enjoy the show."

Author Brooks, who was worried about how diehard fans of the book series would respond to the show, noted that he poked around fan sites on Tuesday following the series premiere to find the show warmly received. He said that advances in technology helped pave the way for Shannara to come to the screen following multiple meetings about mounting the franchise as a feature film.

With so much source material to adapt, Millar and Gough are both optimistic that the series will have a long life. "We could do this show for years and years. We could be like Law & Order!" Millar told THR with a laugh.