As a general rule, the best TV shows don’t last very long. The whole apparatus of television production inexorably trends towards creative entropy: The original writing staff leaves or gets lazy, the actors become bored and overpaid, the newer characters are never as interesting as the original characters (with some very notable exceptions). I never understand people who get angry that Arrested Development was canceled “too early.” The show had 53 fricking episodes — 41 more episodes than Fawlty Towers ever had — and pretty much every episode is worth watching. I’d say that roughly three to seven seasons is the TV sweet spot: Long enough for a show to evolve, but short enough to prevent late-period corrosion. (And that’s not to mention all the incredible one-season wonders that litter TV history, like The Prisoner, Boomtown, Firefly, John From Cincinnati, Kings, and Denis Leary’s The Job, still one of my favorite sitcoms ever.)
Still, I’m intrigued by HBO programming president Michael Lombardo’s statement today about Game of Thrones: “I hope it lasts for 20 years.” It might just have been an idle comment, but it’s worth discussing. Like most people who read George R. R. Martin’s books, I’m incredibly curious to see how the TV series will go about adapting the ever-expanding narrative into TV form. The first season of Thrones adhered reasonably close to the first book in the series. But the first book made that easy: There was a simple Starks vs. Lannisters conflict, and only a few settings. Starting with Book 2, A Clash of Kings, Martin’s narrative begins to splinter in a million different directions, and the books get longer and longer.
Martin himself told EW’s James Hibberd that he’s hoping HBO splits Book 3, A Storm of Swords, into two seasons. If that happens, it’s entirely plausible that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons (which cover the same time period over the course of a combined 1,700 pages) could turn into three seasons. And that gets us to 2018, by which point Martin will have presumably published at least one more book.
Of course, there’s another option. One of the most enjoyable parts of the first season of Game of Thrones was seeing how the series’ co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss slowly began to put their own mark on the material. You could quibble with some of the additions. (I love how they turned Ros the red-headed whore into a regular character, but at this point she’s little more than a Nudity-Delivery Device.) But the vast majority of the changes were surprisingly compelling. I’m thinking of Tywin Lannister skinning his own stag, or the stealth promotion of Littlefinger from fascinating supporting character to fascinating lead character. Part of me kind of hopes that the series strikes off on its own from here. With only 10 episodes per season and literally hundreds of supporting characters to draw upon in future books, it doesn’t seem like Thrones would ever be in danger of going stale.
What do you think, Thrones fans? Do you think the series could sustain a long run? It might sound like a funny comparison, but could this be a show like The Simpsons, with an ever-expanding supporting cast? (Like, could we be looking at an entire episode about Asha Greyjoy in five seasons or so?) Or would you prefer that Thrones adhere to the one-book-per-season philosophy?
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