With ‘Game of Thrones,’ HBO is playing for another ‘True Blood’

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You have to give the HBO executives credit for candor. Speaking of “Game of Thrones,” the upcoming series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, programming president Michael Lombardo admitted that he personally doesn’t particularly care for those kinds of stories. “It wasn’t the genre we responded to, it was the storytelling,” he told reporters Saturday at the TV press tour in Beverly Hills.

That concession might count as a sacrilege in some quarters, but HBO knows a potentially profitable market when it sees one. The pay cable outlet is hoping that “Game of Thrones” will follow the path of “True Blood,” the vampire drama that has steadily grown into HBO’s first major hit in years and was likewise adapted from a series of genre novels with a ferociously devoted fan base.


But HBO knows they’ve got work to do. “There’s enormous pressure on the ‘Game of Thrones’ people,” Lombardo said. “It’s a very sophisticated audience; you have to get it right.”

HBO co-president Richard Plepler pointed out that with “True Blood,” creator Alan Ball found a way to tap into that passionate fan base. “Alan has created this extremely compelling and addictive world. ... When you get passionate fan bases, they talk with each other and that’s catalytic,” he said. But he noted that social-media services such as Twitter can also be a “double-edged sword.” “You can obviously have a negative power of amplification,” he added.

The network showed about 15 seconds of “Game of Thrones” footage as part of a larger clip of coming attractions, but explained that CGI effects still had to be added (a network spokeswoman says the producers have been shooting for only two weeks). The show is scheduled to premiere sometime in spring 2011.

In the meantime, executives dropped a few details about returning shows. “Entourage” will “definitely” end its run next summer after eight seasons, Lombardo said. He declined to speculate about the future of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” saying that the network had learned not to put pressure on creator and star Larry David.

Executives also scrambled to reassure skeptics about “Luck.” The upcoming horse-racing drama, which stars Dustin Hoffman in his first series role, was created by David Milch, whose last HBO effort was the roundly drubbed surfing drama “John from Cincinnati.”

“Luck” will be different, Lombardo said, because Milch “has such a clear vision for the show.” He added that reporters shouldn’t pre-judge the show “whatever you think of ‘John from Cincinnati’ and its failings.”

--Scott Collins

Photo: Opening scene of “Game of Thrones.” Helen Sloane / HBO

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