HBO’s Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo Talk About the Future of GAME OF THRONES, TRUE BLOOD, and More at the TCA’s

     July 29, 2011


Prior to the HBO presentation at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, the network’s Co-President Richard Plepler and President of Programming Michael Lombardo took some time to discuss where they’re at with the development of some of their upcoming projects, what they’d like to improve on with their programming, their desire to keep Alan Ball around as showrunner on True Blood and, of course, lots of Game of Thrones talk. Here are the most interesting points:

  • If they could do 12 episodes of Game of Thrones, they would, but they feel the quality of the series would suffer for it.
  • They’re optimistic in being able to carry the Game of Thrones story through to the end, and completely believe in and trust the vision for the series.
  • Alan Ball is definitely signed on as showrunner for Season 5 of True Blood, and they hope that he will stay for as long as it’s on the air.
  • The new Michael Mann/David Milch series Luck, centered around a horse-racing track, will premiere in January 2012.
  • Boardwalk Empire returns September 25th with 12 episodes and Bored to Death returns October 10th with 8 episodes.
  • Even though Michael Lombardo is not a fan of the fantasy genre, and he hasn’t actually read George R.R. Martin’s books, he loves what David Benioff and Dan Weiss have done with Game of Thrones.

More info and the interview after the jump:

Richard Plepler HBOQuestion: You’ve said that Game of Thrones was outside of your usual genre. Are you fonder of the genre now, or do you feel that Game of Thrones transcends what your hesitations were?

RICHARD PLEPLER: I actually think what I said was that, when (co-creator/executive producer/writer) David Benioff came in and talked about the show, he said, “Within the first 10 or15 minutes, you’ll forget where you are,” and that ultimately it’s a story of power. And, they could not have delivered on their promise more than they did. I think that the show is a great surprise to a lot of people who thought it was going to be about fantasy and they saw the great storytelling involved. They stayed with it. The numbers bear that out. So, we couldn’t be more delighted. We couldn’t be more excited about the new season. And. we couldn’t be more comfortable working with people like David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss].

MICHAEL LOMBARDO: I think I actually was quoted as saying that I’m not a fan of the genre, but loved the show. And, I’m still not a fan of the genre, but I love this show. That doesn’t mean I’m going to watch another fantasy show, but I certainly would be open to another one because this show constantly surprises and dazzles me.

PLEPLER: I also think, when you believe in people the way that we believed in David and Dan, you’re very comfortable that they’re going to execute on their promise and vision. And, I think they exceeded even our expectations.

Does it make you nervous that George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished writing his book series?

PLEPLER: If you sit with David and Dan and you talk to them, they have so much respect for what George has created, and they’re staying true to the vision that he’s outlined in the books. George is so excited about the way that we have handled it, and the way that the creators have handled it, that they’re really inextricably linked to each other. So the truth is, when you see how thrilled he is with the production — he came to our offices last week and was floating, both from the reviews of his last book and from the reception of Game of Thrones – we know we’ve succeeded. We told George we would go as long as he kept writing.

Michael Lombardo HBOLOMBARDO: What is exciting is that there is so much storytelling. I think that they’re able to distill quantities of storytelling into the essence of it, and I trust that they’ll do that going forward. The good news is, as long as they want to keep doing it, and as long as they’re achieving what they did this season, in terms of being happy with the result, there’s a lot of storytelling to tell. It’s actually invigorating rather than daunting.

A lot of your flagship dramas get 12 episodes per season, but Game of Thrones gets 10. Do you feel like you’ll have to cram a lot of story in, if you continue to do 10 episodes per season, instead of more?

LOMBARDO: If we could do 12 episodes of Game of Thrones, we would. They are already in production on the second season. They had to start writing early to actually produce those shows at the level of execution they need, and deliver in time so that we’re not asking a consumer to wait more than a year, which we’ve decided is a mistake. There is no way they could physically do more than 10 without us making a decision to dilute the quality of the execution and to have them be less hands-on, which is not what we’re about. So, I fully appreciate it. I think the only good news is, I hope it lasts for 20 years. I can promise you we won’t stop it before it’s ready to stop. It’s great storytelling. First of all, I’ve not read the books, but when we sit down with Dan and David, we’re not saying, “Okay, you’ve got to finish the second book in this season.” I think they’re trying to find a storytelling structure that works for the season.

PLEPLER: There are no two bigger fans of the books and what the books are trying to do, than those guys. They’re not going to let that happen.

LOMBARDO: They have the same concerns and issues and, at the same time, they’re fully committed to being hands-on and executing them in the way that the show deserves. We’re aware of it, but you couldn’t be in better hands than with Dan and Dave.

game-of-thronesSo, you’ve green-lit an extremely expensive series with a lot of plot, but you haven’t actually read the books?

LOMBARDO: True. Maybe I’m a crazy optimist. There are people who work on the show who may have read the books, or are trying to get through the books. Many things happened in the first season that I really didn’t know about until we had committed to the first season. I knew what their vision was, and the beats of individual characters, and who dies and who doesn’t die. It’s a challenge of the show. The production challenges for this particular season far exceed even what we looked at last season, without giving away too much about the storytelling. That’s the beauty of these books, and the challenge from a production and storytelling standpoint, but that’s what excites us.

PLEPLER: George is very much a part of the narrative arc that David and Dan and the team are building. He is linked to everything that they’re doing. It’s not like he disappeared. They rely on him, they talk to him and he talks to them. He’s thrilled with what they have produced.

LOMBARDO: I don’t know where the show ends for us, as opposed to the books. It would be fantastic to be able to say, “This show will go on for 10 years and do every aspect of the books,” but I don’t know that that will be the case. With Deadwood, when David Milch came in and pitched the show, in his mind, he already imagines, on some level, where that show could go in six or seven years. There’s always the conversation about that. With Game of Thrones, I think the show has not only performed well, but they seem engaged. The challenge for us is always how long the creators want to stay on a show. We have not really been a network that’s embraced the idea of changing creative vision, so we’ll see. We’re doing this without any predetermined idea of the number of seasons that we can do. Dan and David have signed on for a couple years, and we’re going to have that conversation with them every couple years.

true-blood-season-four-posterPLEPLER: At the very beginning of this, David said to us that there are not many things that he could imagine spending seven or eight years of his life devoted to, but this is one of them.

LOMBARDO: There’s a great relationship this show has with its fan base, and that the books have with its fan base, that we take very seriously. People have been watching the casting on this show, in a way that we’ve never experienced before. When we brought this show up, there was a challenge, not only how the general public was going to respond to it, but there was such a high bar set by the fans of the books to execute the show, in a way that they felt was respectful of the books. That’s a relationship that we’re really very aware of and respectful of.

How long have you got Alan Ball for?

PLEPLER: We hope for the whole length of our tenures at HBO.

LOMBARDO: At least for one more year. We have a very long relationship, with all of our showrunners. We hope he stays passionate about it and wants to continue being involved in the show. He’s definitely on for next year. They’re working away.

Would continue True Blood without him?

LOMBARDO: I think the only way we’d continue without Alan Ball would be with his input, blessing and godfathering. But, it would be challenging for us to imagine doing that without him around.

PLEPLER: But, if Alan mentored a showrunner and kept an eye on it and was the godfather of the project, that could work too.

When will Luck premiere?

LOMBARDO: Michael [Mann] and David [Milch] are working in post on it. We finally have figured out an air date. I don’t know that we’ve formally announced it, but we’re definitely going to premiere it in the beginning of January 2012. It will take the place, as it were, of where Big Love had aired for the last couple of years.

PLEPLER: We’re very excited.

Richard Plepler HBOWhat is the status of the Tom Hanks mini-series, where he’s going to adapt the Vincent Bugliosi book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy?

LOMBARDO: We’re still in development. There are no current plans to start production on it, but it’s still an active development.

Is there still any possibility of redeveloping, No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, or is that done?

LOMBARDO: You know, we just got in first drafts of two scripts. We had decided, instead of continuing it as a series, to develop it as possibly two or more of what I’ll call stand-alone films. So, we just got drafts in and we’re taking a look at them now.

What do you think you need to work on, in your slate of original programming?

LOMBARDO: I think we have some really strong dramas, with True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Treme and hopefully Luck, coming up. I feel like, in the hour area, we have some strength. In the half-hour area, we have some great shows, but we would love for some of those shows to pop out a bit more. None of the shows were recognized by the Emmy voters this year, and that’s frustrating for us. Honestly, what we always worry about is the next great show, and that’s not just True Blood numbers, in terms of Nielsen, but the show that does what it intends to do, whether it’s Treme numbers or True Blood numbers.

PLEPLER: I think it’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches for us, right now. We have a lot of talent at the door. We have an enormous array of people who want to work at the network. I think our challenge is going to be doing everything we want to do and figuring out a way to not only keep the wonderful stuff that we have, but to build the next generation of shows. That is a very high-class problem and one, frankly, which we worked very hard to get.