As we finish our season three Game of Thrones coverage, there’s one last anecdote to share. Do you want to know what prompted HBO to turn George R.R. Martin’s novels into a TV show? It’s a story only a few people know.
There are many factors in any decision like this, of course, and the novels have a lot of obvious benefits — a gripping, constantly cliff-hanging story with a passionate built-in fan base, for starters. But HBO programming president Michael Lombardo can recall one specific moment when he decided to move forward with the pilot — a “tipping point,” for you Malcolm Gladwell fans.
This was 2008. It’s easy to forget Thrones seemed like a huge risk. An adult fantasy TV show had never succeeded before and HBO’s brand was built on more “serious” programming. There were fantasy films with enormous budgets that threatened to make any TV project look weak and cheap by comparison. And writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss turned in a pilot script that clearly demonstrated this was a show of enormous ambition.
“We had this pilot script and we were budgeting it and scratching our head whether we should go ahead and greenlight this,” Lombardo recalls. “And we were trying to figure out the production challenges. We knew it had to be able to stand next to projects in this genre being done on the big screen yet with a more limited budget.”
With the decision hanging over him, Lombardo escaped HBO’s Santa Monica office and hit the gym.
As it turned out, Benioff and Weiss go to the same gym.
“And I see Dan on one of the bicycles,” Lombardo says. “He was reading this dog-eared copy of the first book. And it had underscores and yellow highlights [on the pages]. And he did not know I saw him — I was standing on the side. And I thought, ‘We’re going to figure this out. These guys breathe this show in a way that doesn’t happen all the time.’ I found that little window into Dan in that quiet moment, that this is what he was doing in his free time. It was such an acknowledgment of everything I suspected about those guys, and it made me determined to figure this thing out.”
The lesson: If you want to pull off an impossible creative accomplishment, it takes a ton of dedication, hard work and passion …
… and going to the same gym as HBO’s president doesn’t hurt either.
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