HBO Bosses on Rising Costs, Brutal Negotiations and 'Game of Thrones' Future

Courtesy of HBO
'Game of Thrones'

“$50 million [per season] would never fly for what we are trying to do. We are going big," says HBO's Francesca Orsi on planned 'Thrones' spinoffs.

Details remain scarce about the hotly anticipated spinoffs (HBO prefers the term "successor shows") that will follow Game of Thrones when the epic fantasy series ends its run next year.

But HBO executives have made one thing clear: They aren't playing it safe.

Speaking at a panel titled "The Best of HBO" at the INTV conference in Israel on Tuesday, Francesca Orsi, HBO senior vp drama, said the network has budgeted the Game of Thrones spinoffs near the level of the original series, and above the budget GoT had in its first few seasons. "$50 million [per season] would never fly for what we are trying to do. We are going big," Orsi said.

Given the phenomenal success of GoT, Orsi said "it feels like corporate malfeasance to not continue it," noting the network is planning "three, four, five spinoffs" of the original series.

HBO last year announced that it had teamed with Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island), Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass), Brian Helgeland (Legend) and Carly Wray (The Leftovers) to develop separate spinoff series based on the fantasy world created by writer George R.R. Martin. The move marks the first time that HBO will revisit one of its iconic shows.

Orsi also promised that the final season of GoT will not disappoint. A table read of the last few episodes with the show's cast, she said, "was a really powerful moment in our lives and our careers. None of the cast had received the scripts prior, and one by one they started to fall down to their deaths. By the end, the last few words on the final script, the tears just started falling down. Then there was applause that lasted 15 minutes."

Casey Bloys, president, HBO Programming, said extending limited series to returning shows remains "the exception rather than the rule" at the network, despite the fact that HBO has done just that with both True Detective, which will return for a third season, and The Night Of, which has been commissioned for season two.

Orsi said HBO was confident the scripts for season two of Big Little Lies "are as good if not better than last season" and that the network would not have ordered another season if they hadn't been sure that "we have more to do and say and there's passion on the part of the cast." She admitted, however, that the choice to continue required major renegotiation with the show's cast, including that the transition from a one-season effort to a second season was a financial hurdle, requiring huge renegotiations with the cast, which includes Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

"From a budget standpoint going into season two of Big Little Lies without any options in place we've been … um … short of raped," she said. (Orsi later said she regretted her choice of words.)

In a wide-ranging discussion, Bloys also touched on competition with Netflix, noting that the streaming giant was "in the volume business," while HBO was "in the curation business." Orsi added that the flood of new series from Netflix was "absolutely diluting" the quality of shows on offer.

Bloys said Netflix's volume demands explained the company's recent mega-deals with Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes.

"The reason they're getting paid so much is they're so prolific," he said. "That's a very valuable talent." Bloys said HBO would love to have a show from Murphy or Rhimes, but that "I'd want the one show they absolutely want to do and will do 24 hours a day."

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