HBO Exec: 'Game of Thrones' Will Go on as Long as George R.R. Martin Keeps Writing

Sean Bean - Game of Thrones - P - 2011

Network execs also express "disappointment" in the combined movie and miniseries category at this year's Emmy Awards

BEVERLY HILLS – HBO executives stressed their commitment to making Game of Thrones authentic to George R.R. Martin's books and to keeping the show going as long as Martin keeps writing -- which is a considerable commitment given Martin's prolific nature.

Addressing critics at the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, Richard Plepler, co-president of HBO, said Martin is happy with the networks adaptation of his work.

"The truth is when you see how thrilled he is with the production, we know we’ve succeeded partially by his satisfaction," said Plepler. "We told George we’d go as long as he kept writing."

Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO, admitted that he has not read Martin's books. But he noted that Thrones writers/producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss are among Martin's "biggest fans."

But while HBO has had much success with dramas post-Sopranos, the same cannot be said for half-hour series. With Entourage closing in on its final episode and still no true heir apparent -- from a ratings perspective -- to the long-wrapped Sex and the City, HBO executives acknowledge that the half hour genre has been a challenge. 

"I feel like in the hour area we have some strength," said Lombardo. "In the half hour area we’d like to see some of those shows pop out a little bit more."

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Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm is having its most-watched season in several years, but its audience is still less than three million per episode. And few of the network's other half-hour shows -- Bored to DeathEastbound and Down -- have truly broken out.

Plepler and Lombardo expressed disappointment in the combining of the made-for-TV-movie and miniseries categories beginning with this year’s Emmy Awards. The premium cable network has dominated both categories, especially miniseries as fewer networks devote resources to the big-budget projects.

“They are two distinct genres,” said Lombardo. “They have separate categories for different kinds of reality shows and yet there is a combined [category] for movies and miniseries. But we weren’t involved in those conversations. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

HBO has three projects nominated in the category this year: the movies Too Big to Fail and Cinema Verite and the miniseries Mildred Pierce.

“It’s disappointing to us because it prevents some of the writers and producers and directors from being recognized,” added Plepler. “But there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to live with it.”

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They also used part of their time here to talk up HBO Go. The network’s authenticated streaming service is available via most major cable providers – but not Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second-largest provider behind Comcast.

“We wish we had the leverage and the power to move Time Warner Cable, but as you know we have nothing to do with them,” said Plepler.

Time Warner, which owns HBO, spun off Time Warner Cable in early 2009.

Plepler added that the company is in active negotiations with TWC.

“We’re negotiating the deal and I don’t think there’s any question that consumers are unhappy that they can’t get HBO Go,” he added. “We’re working as fast as we can to close the deal.”

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The TV Everywhere initiative is a lynchpin in HBO’s programming model, which does not rely on advertising. And Plelper acknowledged that major service providers and ad-supported networks are navigating the digital universe with a different set of priorities.

“They’re selling eyeballs to advertisers and we’re selling a brand,” he said.

About half of HBO’s audience comes from on-demand platforms and mobile-broadband, according to Plepler.

“We’re not determining success on the basis of numbers,” said Plepler. “If a show like Treme draws a smaller number as part of the canvas we’re painting on that’s okay.”

Asked why the network touts its live premiere ratings much like broadcast and ad-supported networks, Lombardo told reporters gathered here: “Only because you write about it.”