Tag Archives: George RR Martin

Game of Thrones and OJ dominate Emmys

Game of Thrones will end in 2018
Game of Thrones will end in 2018

The 2016 Primetime Emmys didn’t spring too many surprises when its winners were unveiled at the weekend. One of the top performers on the night was HBO’s magnificent Game of Thrones (GoT), which was named Best Drama for the second year running.

Aside from being one of US cable TV’s most-watched series ever, it has now broken the record for the highest number of Emmys won by any fictional series (38, beating Frasier’s 37).

GoT’s two showrunners, David Benioff and DB Weiss, also picked up Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the season six’s Battle of the Bastards. This follows their win in 2015 for the exceptional Mother’s Mercy episode.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin

The big irony surrounding GoT, of course, is that there is such a schism between the progress of the TV series and the progress of the books it is based on. The novels’ author George RR Martin is, much to the consternation of his fans, taking an eternity to finish his magnum opus.

But the end of the show is now just two seasons away and there is no question that Martin will still be tapping away at his keyboard when Benioff and Weiss’s TV adaptation concludes in 2018 with season eight.

DB Weiss and David Benioff
DB Weiss and David Benioff

For those of us who fell in love with GoT as a written work, that creates a conundrum regarding the story’s closure.

HBO also has a conundrum, which is what to do when its most popular show by far ends. It seems so unlikely that HBO would let such an important franchise slip through its fingers that everyone remotely interested in GoT is speculating on whether there is scope for a prequel.

When this subject came up after the latest batch of Emmy wins, Martin kept that possibility open – with a proviso. “I do have thousands of pages of fake history of everything that led up to Game of Thrones, so there’s a lot of material there and I’m writing more,” he said, before adding: “At the moment we still have this show to finish and I still have two books to finish, so that’s all speculation.”

If there is a prequel, however, it seems Benioff and Weiss have already decided they won’t be involved. In response to questions about the idea, Benioff said: “You might want to ask George about that. It’s a great world that George created. I think it’s a very rich world, and I’m sure there will be other series set in Westeros but, for us, this is it.”

Of course, this means HBO actually has two challenges – how to keep the spirit of GoT alive and how to hold on to Benioff and Weiss. Maybe it’s time for a Lord of the Rings reboot…

FX's The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
FX’s The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Another writer to go home with an Emmy last weekend was DV DeVincentis for Marcia, Marcia, Marcia – an episode of FX’s excellent series The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special). All told, The People vs OJ won nine Emmys from 22 nominations, making it the top performer on the night.

DeVincentis wrote three of the show’s 10 episodes and was part of a writing team led by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Echoing an increasingly common theme in the TV business, his previous credits are mostly movies (but with some extended career gaps).

DV DeVincentis
DV DeVincentis

He co-wrote the John Cusack film Grosse Pointe Blank in 1997 and then penned the Nick Hornby adaptation High Fidelity (also starring Cusack) in 2000. Short-lived TV series Dead Last (2001) and movie Lay the Favourite (2012) followed. The latter, which didn’t review well, reunited him with director Stephen Frears, with whom he worked on High Fidelity. Now he’s in the TV big league, but there is no news yet on his next scripted project.

The winner of Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series was Netflix’s Master of None, written by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. This makes it a good year for SVoD comedy, with Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle picking up a Golden Globe in early 2016.

While Ansari, the star of the show, is by far the better known of the two, Yang put himself firmly in the spotlight this week with an Emmy acceptance speech that pleaded for more diversity – but immediately managed to stir up a controversy on the subject.

He said: “There’s 17 million Asian Americans, and 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky and The Sopranos. We’ve got Long Duk Dong [a character from Sixteen Candles regarded as a racist stereotype by the Asian community]. So we have a long way to go. But I know we can get there, I believe in us, it’s just gonna take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you can do me a favour: just a couple of you, get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll all be good.”

Aziz Ansari comedy Master of None
Aziz Ansari comedy Master of None

While Yang’s intentions can’t be faulted, the sensitivity of the diversity issue was underlined when his comments received a disapproving response from The National Italian American Foundation, which said it was “disturbed by the very public degradation of Italian American history. Mr Yang listed what he considered to be notable representations of Italian Americans in the entertainment industry citing Goodfellas, The Godfather, and The Sopranos. Mr Yang’s comments, while meant to point out the under-representation of Asian Americans in film, ended up including a reckless disregard for Italian Americans by citing films that portray Italian Americans as violent, dim-witted, and involved with organised crime – all three – and insensitive stereotypes that in no way reflect the lives of everyday Italian Americans.”

Away from the Emmys, Channel 4 in the UK and NBCUniversal-owned comedy streaming channel Seeso have announced there will be a second season of Flowers, a dark dysfunctional dramedy that stars Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh). Produced by Kudos and distributed by Endemol Shine International, the show was created by Will Sharpe.

Flowers stars Julian Barratt and Olivia Colman (centre)
Flowers stars Julian Barratt and Olivia Colman (centre)

Sharpe is best-known as an actor (Casualty, Sherlock, Dirk Gently), with Flowers his first significant breakthrough on the writing front. Commenting on the re-commission, he said: “Channel 4, Kudos, Seeso and [executive producer] Naomi de Pear have all been such supportive partners on this show and I’m very excited about working with them on another series of Flowers.”

C4 deputy head of comedy Nerys Evans added: “Covering complex issues like fidelity, mental health, sexuality and fraying family bonds, Will Sharpe’s hilariously awkward and heart-breaking show offers another unmissable look at the Flowers’ messed up world. Will’s scripts and the show’s perfect cast are so brilliant at making you wail with laughter one minute, and well up the next.”

Also this month, French production group Newen and the distribution and production arm of Keshet Media Group, Keshet International (KI), unveiled a drama development initiative for French and Israeli writers of high-end drama series. The two companies are calling for professional writers to submit proposals and projects in either English or Hebrew for unique one-hour or half-hour drama series with appeal for European audiences.

Flowers writer Will Sharpe
Flowers writer Will Sharpe

The initiative is being led by Atar Dekel, head of global scripted coproductions and Nelly Feld, KI sales director for Europe, on behalf of KI, and Sandra Ouaiss, Newen head of coproductions.

Dekel said: “Within KI’s aim to grow its global drama coproductions, we are excited to be partnering up with a company as prestigious as Newen. This is a unique opportunity for the creative communities in both France and Israel to take their local stories to the international stage. There is a keen appetite in the global market for Israeli and French scripted content and we hope this collaboration will instigate several high-end international coproductions.”

The submission period began on September 6 and ends on October 31 this year. Each candidate may submit a maximum of two projects via the KI or Newen websites  (where full terms and conditions are available). The firms have committed to selecting at least one and up to three projects that they will co-develop and coproduce if appropriate. The finalists will be announced in January 2017 and given the opportunity to work with an experienced European showrunner.

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Fiction favourites

Contemporary novelists have featured prominently in our last couple of columns. So in this week’s Writers Room, we take a look at some of the TV industry’s favourite authors when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen.

The only criterion for this list is that the writer is still alive, so that rules out anything involving popular sources such as Henning Mankell, Michael Crichton or Philip K Dick.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin

George RR Martin is the genius who gave us Game of Thrones, a phenomenal work of fantasy that spawned the hit HBO series of the same name. This week it was announced that he is now working with Universal Cable Productions on Wild Cards, a series that is based on another of his mythological worlds. On his personal blog, Martin described the project as “a series of interlocking books, graphic novels, games… but most of all it is a universe, as large and diverse and exciting as the comic book universes of Marvel and DC (though somewhat grittier, and considerably more realistic and more consistent), with an enormous cast of characters.”

Finding You
Finding You

Marc Levy battles it out with Guillaume Musso for the title of best-selling French author (though Levy is currently number one in terms of international sales). Both have had their novels adapted into films but so far only Levy has seen one of his novels adapted for the small screen. The title in question was Finding You, a 2001 work that was adapted for M6 in 2007. The French market’s recent renaissance in TV drama might lead to more book-to-TV adaptations for French authors.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel published her first novel in 1985 but it was 2009’s Wolf Hall that really established her in the front rank of contemporary novelists. This book, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, was then transformed into an award-winning BBC miniseries. Mantel is currently working on the third book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, which is called The Mirror and the Light. Both her and the BBC are keen for this to be turned into a sequel to the Wolf Hall miniseries. In the meantime, the BBC is developing another Mantel novel called A Place of Greater Safety, which is set during the French Revolution.

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of novels was adapted for TV in the 1990s and was briefly revived in 2006/2008. All told, it led to 16 TV movie length productions –  all starring Sean Bean. That might have been the last we saw of Cornwell’s work on TV, but in 2015 the BBC and Carnival Films created The Last Kingdom, based on his Saxon Stories. The show has been recommissioned for a second season and has the potential to run for a while, given that Cornwell is just about to publish the 10th book in the series. Cornwell has also written novels about Arthurian Britain, the American Civil War and The Hundred Years War, so don’t rule out another epic TV adaptation from this prolific writer.

Beck
Beck

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, from Sweden, are part of the rich tradition of Nordic crime writers that also includes Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson (who died in 2004) and Henning Mankell (who passed away in 2015). Their great creation is detective Martin Beck, the star of 10 novels written between 1965 and 1975 (the year Wahloo died, aged 48). The 10 Beck novels have been adapted numerous times for film and TV and have also spawned TV productions based on the central character. The most recent example was a series of eight TV films that aired on C More across 2015 and 2016. These were picked up by the BBC in the UK and rated pretty well. Sjowall is now 80.

zoo-cbs
Zoo

James Patterson, the world’s best-selling novelist, is working on a true-crime limited series with US cable network Investigation Discovery. However, his novels are also a regular source of inspiration for TV series. CBS’s Zoo, for example, is based on a 2012 novel by Patterson. His books have been used as the basis for TV and film productions since 1991 and include Women’s Murder Club, a series for ABC. In 2015, there was talk this show might be revived by USA Networks. Also on the cards is a CBS legal drama based on his novel Now You See Her. In 2015, another Patterson adaptation, For Justice, was piloted by CBS.

Mukul Deva has been described as India’s answer to Tom Clancy. A former army officer, he has written highly authentic military thrillers such as Lashkar, Salim Must Die, Blowback and Tanzeem. Given the strength of the Bollywood business in India, movie adaptations are most likely to be the first port of call for Deva’s books. Currently, there are plans for Lashkar to be turned into a film by Planman Motion Pictures. “Lashkar started getting offers from Bollywood within days of its release,” said HarperCollins India in a statement. “Deva is a very visual writer and his military background brings a lot of realism to his books. We had been waiting for a filmmaker with the right vision and drive and have full confidence that Planman will make a blockbuster movie.”

Elena Ferrante is a fascinating novelist who has written a number of acclaimed books. Despite being named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time in 2016, no one knows who she is – since Ferrante is a pseudonym. There has been speculation that the author is Italian professor Marcella Marmo, though this has been denied. Two of Ferrante’s novels have been turned into films. However, the big news is that FremantleMedia-owned Wildside and Fandango Productions are turning Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels into a 32-part TV series.

Flügel der Liebe
Pilcher’s Flügel der Liebe

Rosamunde Pilcher, born in Cornwall in 1924, is a romance writer whose novels are very popular in Germany. Public broadcaster ZDF has responded to this with a huge number of TV adaptations of her work. Starting with Day of the Storm, ZDF has adapted more than 100 of her stories, usually as TV movies. Pilcher, whose works are mainly set in Devon and Cornwall, retired from writing in 2000, but she continues to be popular with German audiences. In fact, a German film crew was in St Ives last spring to film a new story – one of many regular trips German crews make to the UK. Some Pilcher productions are also available via Acorn Media.

Does The Night Manager prove that international coproductions are the way forward for UK drama?
The Night Manager

John Le Carré is not only a giant of contemporary fiction, he is also one of the most adapted novelists ever – possibly only outdone by horror maestro Stephen King. His novels have been made into films pretty consistently for the last 50 years. In TV, he had a purple patch from 1979 to 1991 but then went quiet. This year, however, he came back with a bang as The Night Manager became one of the year’s most talked-about dramas. Now, The Night Manager producer The Ink Factory is planning a TV version of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. To date, Le Carre’s film count is 10 and his TV series count is five. He has written 23 books, so there is plenty of potential for new stories (or updates of some of the older screen adaptations).

Nermin Bezman wrote bestselling novel Kurt Seyit ve Sura in 1992. A lavish period piece, it was transformed into a TV series for Star TV by Ay Yapim in 2014 and ran for two seasons. Turkey has a rich tradition of novelists, but the best-known living authors (Orhan Pamuk, Selcuk Altun, Elif Safak) are rarely adapted for TV. A key reason for this is that their work is often too politically sensitive for the tastes of Turkey’s TV censors. In general, Turkish broadcasters tend to turn to historical writers like Halit Ziya Usakligil for inspiration. Bezman has written a number of novels, including The Wings of my Mind and The Devil’s Failure.

Cloudstreet
Cloudstreet

Tim Winton burst onto the Australian writing scene in 1981 and has never looked back. Outside Australia, his reputation received a major boost when Dirt Music was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2001. However, he was already a major success at home thanks to his 1991 novel Cloudstreet, the story of two working-class families rebuilding their lives. Cloudstreet was turned into a TV miniseries in 2011, with Winton writing the script alongside Ellen Fontana. Winton’s children’s books, the Lockie Leonard series, was also adapted by Nine Network. More generally, Winton’s work is adapted for film (Shallows, Breath), though some of his works have also been made as operas.

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A farewell to kings

As HBO says goodbye to Game of Thrones for another year – and edges closer to the show’s end – it’s time for the storied network to look towards life after Westeros.

With the sixth season of Game of Thrones (GoT, pictured top) now concluded, rumours abound that the final two chapters of the fantasy drama may only run to a total of 13 episodes. It’s time for HBO to contemplate life after Westeros.

For HBO (and other channels that air the series, like Sky Atlantic in the UK), the prospect of saying goodbye to such a ratings juggernaut must be daunting, with thoughts of what – if anything – can take its place.

Doubts have been raised about the appeal of some HBO’s upcoming slate of shows. Sci-fi series Westworld and 1970s/80s New York-set porn industry drama The Deuce (from The Wire’s David Simon) should attract high sampling, but others may fall by the wayside.

HBO will have high hopes for forthcoming series Westworld
HBO will have high hopes for forthcoming series Westworld

Succession, about a super-rich dynastic American family, and Somali-American drama Mogadishu, Minnesota could find less traction, as might historical miniseries Lewis & Clark and American Lion (starring Sean Penn as the seventh US president, Andrew Jackson), which might struggle outside the US.

Back in 2008, the UK’s Channel 4 played HBO’s other presidential biopic miniseries, John Adams, to critical praise but few viewers.

For Sky Atlantic, some of HBO’s more US-centric shows – such as public-housing drama Show Me a Hero, Olive Kitteridge, The Brink and the recently cancelled Vinyl – have failed to resonate with viewers.

Political dramas based on real-life events such as Game Change, Too Big To Fail and Recount have also struggled to connect with audiences outside the US, as have biopics You Don’t Know Jack (about assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kervorkian), Temple Grandin (the autistic inventor of the ‘hug box’) and Phil Spector (the famous The Beatles producer now in prison for murder).

So for Sky Atlantic, GoT is an essential part of its long-running deal with HBO, wisely beefed up earlier this year by a similar agreement with Showtime.

Returning to the show itself, its approaching end in 2018 has prompted inevitable speculation about a possible prequel, with two distinct possibilities.

Vinyl has been cancelled after a single season
Vinyl has been cancelled after a single season

Through the visions of the Three-Eyed Crow (played by Max Von Sydow) and other flashbacks, season six has already given us tantalising glimpses of King Robert’s rebellion against the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, including Ned Stark’s epic duel with Ser Arthur Dayne and Jamie Lannister’s slaying of Aerys.

For a GoT fan, the prospect of seeing the young (non-corpulent) Robert Baratheon and his deadly clash with Rhaegar Targaryen at the Ruby Ford must be enticing, as well as earlier incarnations of Tywin Lannister, Stannis Baratheon and Jon Arryn, the latter seen only as a corpse in the series.

Another possibility would be to adapt other work from GoT author George RR Martin. Novella series Tales of Dunk & Egg, set 90 years before the events of the books on which GoT is based, is somewhat lighter in tone. The stories provide further insights into the complicated world of Westeros and how the seeds of rebellion were planted decades before Robert Baratheon began his campaign to oust the Targaryens and avenge the ‘abduction’ of Lyanna Stark.

If so, will current showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss be heavily involved, or will they take a backseat and explore other, non-Martin projects?

Furthermore, will the success of the show prompt HBO to develop works in similar territory? This is a risky path but one that may be worth treading, despite the inevitable comparisons to GoT.

After all, GoT started well but it only become a phenomenon in season three, a fact that may persuade HBO to persist with the long haul involved in commissioning another serious fantasy show.

Vikings has performed well for History
Vikings has performed well for History

Other networks’ attempts to exploit the success of GoT with dramas of a similar style have had varying levels of success.

History’s Vikings has carved out a distinct identity and proved a ratings winner, but others have paled in comparison, including The Bastard Executioner (FX), Beowulf (ITV/Esquire), The Last Kingdom (BBC2/BBC America), The White Queen (BBC1/STARZ) and ABC’s Of Kings & Prophets – all of which have failed to ignite the same interest as GoT.

Bernard Cornwell, who wrote the books on which The Last Kingdom is based, took a swipe at HBO’s fantasy behemoth in the Radio Times, saying of the show: “This is very, very dull. So they put a lot of naked women behind it all, they’re called ‘sex-planations’ in the trade. My programmes won’t need sex-planations.”

Sky and BBC1 are going back to the fantasy/sword-and-sorcery well, with The Last Dragonslayer and Troy: Fall of a City respectively, but industry expectations are currently not especially high for either show.

Long-gestating plans for a film followed by a TV series adaptation of Stephen King’s popular Dark Tower series of novels have now been abandoned solely in favour of a cycle of movies, with stars including Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey attached.

There are also a number of serious fantasy novels in development as series; the trick for HBO will be to order something that shares some of GoT’s DNA without being a copycat. Perhaps a fresh take on a known property may do the trick.

Could there be mileage in looking at ‘classics’ of the fantasy genre that could benefit from a new HBO-style spin without the accusations of aping the GoT formula?

Possibly one of Robert E Howard’s characters Conan, Kull and Soloman Kane, or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, which has a legion of fans despite the poorly received 2012 movie adaptation titled John Carter. Maybe even Michael Moorcock’s lesser-known Elric could also get a TV spin.

After all, Elric’s blade is referenced in GoT – when the obnoxious King Joffrey Baratheon is presented with a new sword at his wedding feast, he asks the crowd what should he name it, and someone shouts out “Stormbringer.”

For a more female-skewing audience, Ursula K Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea novels, which possess a unique aesthetic, clearly distinguishable from the world of GoT, could be worth a pop. Syfy’s 2005 miniseries did little justice to the books and was quickly forgotten.

To some minds, HBO’s Rome and Starz’s Spartacus acted as trailblazers for GoT – perhaps HBO will return to the apparently shelved remake of I Claudius.

With their dynastic blood-letting, perversion and intrigue, the time may well be ripe for a big-budget take on Robert Graves’ novels.

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No Halt for AMC’s PC period drama

Halt and Catch Fire has averaged around 520,000 viewers per episode
Halt and Catch Fire has averaged around 520,000 viewers per episode

AMC has just greenlit a third season of scripted series Halt and Catch Fire. Created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rogers, the show is a recent period drama that looks at the origins of the personal computer revolution in the early 1980s.

On the face of it, the recommission is a surprise, given the show’s low ratings. Season two’s same-day ratings averaged around 520,000 across a run of 10 episodes. Even when three days’ worth of time-shifted viewing is added in (Live + 3), the show still only managed to attract around 900,000 – making it the lowest-rating original drama on the network.

To put this in perspective, The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD) bring audiences in excess of 10 million to AMC. Low Winter Sun, cancelled last year, was running at around 1.2 million – and had a much better response from the 18-49 demographic than Halt.

So why would a savvy network like AMC renew a show that doesn’t seem to be delivering the goods in ratings terms? Well, there are a number of possible explanations. The first is that critics started warming to the show in season two, regarding it as a step up from the first run. So it’s possible AMC views the show as a sleeper – the kind of drama that might suddenly break through into the public consciousness in season three, encouraging new viewers to go back and watch from the start.

Into the Badlands will debut on AMC next month
Into the Badlands will debut on AMC next month

The second is that AMC might have taken a positive view on the profile of the audience. It’s possible Halt and Catch Fire particularly appeals to AMC influencers and evangelists – the kind of hardcore fans who will recommend the channel to friends. As such, the drama may have a value over and above its raw numbers.

Another factor worth noting is that AMC is a subscription-based channel, not an ad-only channel like the big four US broadcast networks. While AMC does make money from ads (and it’s possible advertisers might like Halt), it doesn’t need to make snap decisions about shows – especially at a time when The Walking Dead, FTWD and Better Call Saul are all doing so well for the channel. Somewhere, deep in AMC’s research department, someone may have taken the view that the profile of Halt and Catch Fire is having an additive effect on the overall schedule.

Linked to this point is the positive impact the show could be having on the AMC brand. As the channel showed with Mad Men, which wasn’t a huge ratings success, there is a brand benefit in being seen as a channel that supports quality shows – especially if that support translates into awards. It gives channels the kind of ‘home of quality’ feel that public broadcasters like the BBC and DR in Denmark possess, and that can be a business benefit.

Channels also need to take a view on the overall shape of their slate at any given time. With Mad Men and Hell on Wheels both coming to a close, AMC is probably reluctant to go on a cancellation spree. Turn and Humans were also renewed after delivering modest ratings, so the channel may be waiting to see which of the three manages to raise its game in ratings terms. Alternatively, it may be waiting to see how new shows like Into the Badlands and Preacher perform. If those series do well, then the pressure to axe at least one show will probably grow.

Tyrant has been given a third season on FX
Tyrant has been given a third season on FX

It’s also important to think about the global economics of the AMC business these days. Halt and Catch Fire is a wholly owned show, which means AMC has a vested interest in it doing well. It can use the show on its international network AMC Global and it can sell it to international third parties or to Netflix. In other words, there are several other ways to extract value from the show that have nothing to do with the average audience for season two.

And finally, there is a point to be made about building relationships with talent. While the showrunner on Halt’s first two series, Jonathan Lisco, has left to work on another project, this has opened the door for Cantwell and Rogers to take control of the show they created and co-write. They are clearly delighted to be making a new series for AMC – so it’s just possible their next show may be the one that does the business for the channel. Or maybe other writing talent will look at the recommission and decide AMC is the kind of network they want to take their show to.

In summary, there are reasons why networks sometimes choose to keep ploughing ahead with low-rating shows. Ratings are still the best way to analyse and assess a show’s performance, but in this increasingly complex media market we shouldn’t be too surprised if networks back shows that look destined for the chop. And it makes the job of guessing that much more interesting.

Elsewhere, US cable channel FX has renewed Tyrant for a third season of 10 episodes. This show, created by Gideon Raff and executive produced by Howard Gordon (the team that brought us Homeland), is a political drama loosely based on the life of Syria president Bashar al-Assad. Series two averaged around 1.2 million viewers, but seemed to be getting stronger towards the back end of the run. This view is confirmed by IMDb ratings. While the overall IMDb rating is 7.9, episodes 10, 11 and 12 of season two were all scored by fans at 9 or 9.1 – suggesting a groundswell of support.

George RR Martin's Skin Trade has previously been adapted as a comic
George RR Martin’s Skin Trade novella is being adapted for Cinemax

Another interesting story this week is that HBO sister channel Cinemax has optioned the TV rights to Game of Thrones author George RR Martin’s The Skin Trade, described as an the offbeat werewolf noir novella. Commenting on his blog, Martin said: “The deal is closed, and Cinemax has ordered the pilot script. This being Hollywood, you never know where things will end… but if they like the script, we’ll shoot a pilot, and if they like that, hey, who knows, maybe we’ll get a series on the air. Which would be very cool. Those of you who know the story of Doorways, my ill-fated ABC pilot from the early 90s, may recall that it was Skin Trade that I was actually trying to sell back in 1991, when I flew out to LA for a round of pitch meetings. So we’re a few decades late…”

Some Game of Thrones fans will no doubt be anxious that Skin Trade will distract Martin from finishing writing his masterwork. But he used his blog to assure fans that wouldn’t be the case: “While I would have loved to write the script and run the show myself, that was never really on the cards. I have this book to finish. You know the one…”

The Skin Trade pilot will be written by Kalinda Vazquez, whose credits include Prison Break and Once Upon a Time. Martin will be an executive producer.

Halle Berry in Extant
Halle Berry in Extant

Skin Trade comes under a two-year development deal Martin has with HBO. He has previously said that he is developing a Captain Cosmos series at HBO, with Michael Cassutt writing. Cassutt’s TV credits include The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.

Finally, NBC’s new procedural series Blindspot has been rewarded for its good start with an additional nine-episode order. This means it is the first of this year’s new US shows to secure a full-season order. By contrast, Fox has reduced its initial order of 13 episodes on Minority Report to 10. While this doesn’t count as a cancellation, it means the show is the first of this year’s new US titles to know that it won’t be coming back. CBS, meanwhile, has cancelled summer series Extant, starring Halle Berry, after two seasons. Both Minority Report and Extant are Amblin TV shows.

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What next for Game of Thrones’ reign?

Cersei's 'walk of shame' was one of a number of shocking and controversial scenes from season five
Cersei Lannister’s ‘walk of shame’ was one of a number of shocking and controversial scenes from season five

The winners of the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series at this year’s Emmys were David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for Mother’s Mercy, the final episode of season five of Game of Thrones (GoT). Maybe there was an argument for giving the award to Matthew Weiner for Mad Men, but there’s no question that the climax of GoT’s latest series was utterly compelling. In fact, the entire season was a triumph, notwithstanding the mid-season controversy surrounding Sansa Stark’s brutal rape.

For the uninitiated, the show is based on George RR Martin’s book series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Game of Thrones is the title of the first book. Five massive tomes have been published so far and there are plans for two more in the series. Anyone who has read Martin’s books will appreciate just what a formidable task it must be to transfer the author’s vision to the small screen. But to do so without having the entire GoT fanbase lambasting your interpretation is a remarkable scriptwriting feat.

David Benioff (copyright HBO)
David Benioff (copyright HBO)

One of the biggest challenges in adapting the books is the way Martin has developed his story, using multiple point-of-view narratives that take place in wildly different locations. Readers of the books are familiar with the way much-loved characters can go missing for hundreds of pages (nay, entire books!) while other characters and stories are dealt with. Somehow, Benioff and Weiss brought all the disparate elements together in Mother’s Mercy, creating a cascade of cliffhangers and gut-wrenching climaxes. Critics found a few things to nitpick about, but the nature of their complaints tended to reveal them as hardcore fans of the show, rather than mystified outsiders trying to fathom its appeal.

It’s not just the scale of the enterprise that presents challenges. GoT is also a highly complex exercise in characterisation that Benioff and Weiss have captured beautifully. Heroes are frequently killed because of their hubris or recklessness; villains unexpectedly elicit our sympathy when they show moments of humanity.

At a superficial level, it can seem as though the series is simply seeking to defy audience expectations of a character’s rightful end or reward. But the reality is the reverse. Characters in GoT tend to get exactly what they deserve – not what we think they deserve. Their ends are a product of their actions, played out against the backdrop of a brutal, uncaring world. GoT may eventually reward us with a happy ending, but that is far from a given. For an interesting insight into why Mother’s Mercy played out the way it did, watch this interview with Benioff and Weiss.

D.B. Weiss (copyright HBO)
D.B. Weiss (copyright HBO)

Looking more broadly at the franchise, it has to be said that the entire GoT edifice is at an interesting juncture. Until now, all of the TV seasons have been based on published books. But the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, is yet to be released. Martin has generally kept his cards close to his chest on this subject, but the expectation is that the book will be launched ahead of the TV series. That would suggest a spring/summer launch of the book with a view to HBO launching a new season of the TV show in autumn 2016.

Presumably, though, Martin must have given Benioff and Weiss a look at the draft version of the book so that they can start building scripts for the next series. Otherwise they will have insufficient time to get the next series into production.

Where this all gets really gripping is what happens after the next book and series launches. GoT fans have long feared the moment when the TV series races ahead of Martin’s writing schedule. After The Winds of Winter, Martin is planning one more concluding book, entitled A Dream of Spring. But, based on his current record, that could take four to five years to deliver. So what do Benioff and Weiss do while they are waiting?

Fan theories over the fate of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) range from the ridiculous to the ingenious
Fan theories over the fate of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) range from the ridiculous to the ingenious

Well, if we assume (and it is only an assumption) that HBO gets two series out of The Winds of Winter (2016 and 2017), there are three options. First, they could negotiate permission to push on ahead of the books, under guidance from Martin. A big enough financial offer might make that possible, but it seems unlikely that the author would let his 25-year life’s work conclude in such an unsatisfying way – while the TV series is very good, the books are astonishing.

Second, they could try to originate new GoT content to fill the two- or three-season gap they’ll be left with (2018, 2019 and maybe 2020). This could be a prequel or a spin-off series set within one of Martin’s locales. Perhaps if that doesn’t feel right they could take the franchise to the big screen for a year or two.

And finally, of course, they could do nothing – and just wait for Martin to finish his book. But given the success of the show, that would seem like a commercially damaging decision, both in terms of lost momentum and upsetting addicted fans. Assuming ratings stay strong, my money would be on a series that focuses on the rebellion of Robert Baratheon – which takes place a couple of decades before the main story in GoT. An intensely dramatic backstory (featuring a young Ned Stark), it would also shed some light on the current politics of the GoT world.

Last season also left viewers debating what happened to Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane)
Last season also left viewers debating what happened to Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane)

Martin used to be worried about the problem of timing, but has resigned himself to being outpaced by the TV series. In a recent interview, he explained: “I said, ‘To hell with that.’ Worrying about it isn’t going to change it one way or another. I still sit down at the typewriter, and I have to write the next scene and the next sentence… I’m just going to tell my story, and they’re telling their story and adapting my books, and we shall see.”

Martin has always been under pressure from his fans – both to finish the book and to do right by their expectations. But it’s unusual to see an author also being pulled into the ongoing debate around the series. With the success of the show, however, he now has to deal with interventions from the mainstream media and lobby groups. Earlier this year, for example, he found himself defending the TV portrayal of Sansa Stark’s rape – despite the fact that the scene did not even appear in his books. And he also has to address issues of diversity in a way that he probably never expected when he started writing the books in the early 1990s. Here’s an interview, for example, where he talks about gay characters in GoT. In this interview, he also promises us a “bittersweet” ending – citing Tolkein’s end to The Lord of the Rings as an inspiration. But ‘bittersweet’ in Martin’s hands is sure to come laced with plenty of blood and betrayal, rather than a return to Bag End.

Other Emmy winners this year include Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche for Veep (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series) and Jane Anderson for Olive Kitteridge (Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie Or A Dramatic Special). You can get a few details about Jane Anderson here.

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