While Game of Thrones is finally over, another war is raging unabated: the one between premium television networks, seeking a new show to rule the world “Thrones” created. As The Washington Post reports, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and Showtime have all been feverishly working to reconstruct the scale, acclaim, relevance and — not to be underestimated — subscriber-attracting properties of the HBO smash. So, who are the main contenders?
- Netflix has “The Witcher,” based on a supernatural-monster literary franchise;
- Showtime has “Halo,” adapted from one of the most popular video-game series of all time.
- Amazon seeks to bring viewers back to the Shire with “Lord of the Rings.”
- Apple is hoping to finally give life to Isaac Asimov’s sweeping “Foundation.”
- HBO is going back to the well, developing a “Game of Thrones” prequel starring Naomi Watts.
- And a host of other options!
Impressed yet? Let’s have a look at these contenders.
Ironically, it is the typically free-spending Netflix, which bid against Amazon for the “LOTR” license, that may end up with the most cost-effective post-“Thrones” option.
Based on the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy series about monster hunters with supernatural abilities, “Witcher” has a uniquely “Thrones” pedigree. It’s literary work with a pulpy setting.
Most important, “Witcher” has something nearly all the other shows don’t: an airdate. Netflix says it will debut it in the fall.
Everyone has heard of “Halo,” a science-fiction game and movies about an interstellar war between humans and the alien supergroup The Covenant. “Halo” is an apt spiritual heir to “Thrones.” It has the power struggle, the spectacle and the double-crossing. Though springboarded from a video game, it contains juicy central characters and names of “Thrones”-ian dimensions: Master Chief John-117, The Arbiter, anyone?
But that also makes it a good candidate for failure: with a sprawling mythology across an original trilogy, a second trilogy, spin-offs, novels and graphic novels, the source material may be too unwieldy for eight hourly episodes.
“Halo” development has been going on for nearly six years. Top-tier filmmakers such as Neill Blomkamp of “District 9” and Guillermo Del Toro each took a look and eventually ran away. After bringing on acclaimed TV writer Kyle Killen as showrunner, the network last month hired a second showrunner, Steven Kane of TNT’s “The Last Ship.” But it’s still seeking key cast members and a production start date.
Lord of the Rings
In 2017, Amazon paid a reported $250 million for the license to “Lord of The Rings.” For a license. Production costs, according to some estimates, could take the show to $1 billion.
Amazon is now planning a prequel to the events of the original “Lord of the Rings” novels, hiring writers from “Star Trek” and targeting the series for 2021.
Given the high risks involved, why is Amazon doing “LOTR”?
Because that, experts say, is how big the post-“Thrones” prize really is.
Asimov’s famous literary work is a classic, not just a genre exercise but a deep contemplation of global power politics via something called psychohistory. Empires rise and fall in “Foundation” in ways that make Westeros look like a city council election. It’s also the first space opera series I ever read and it influenced everything, from the way I read to the way I write (my own Pearseus owes a lot to it).
Despite a green light, writers and a producer-financier, “Foundation” lacks a cast and start date. Tellingly, the show was barely mentioned at the service’s high-profile presentation in March.
Game of Thrones
In some ways, the fight to follow “Game of Thrones” is a lot like the game of thrones itself: You win or you die. There is no middle ground.
When “Game of Thrones” was being developed, HBO was skeptical — really skeptical. The original pilot fell so flat with executives they ordered much of it reshot. Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, now seen as infallible kingmakers, were on the verge of becoming one more writing duo in search of a general meeting. The show nearly didn’t end up on the air. Even when it did, few expected it to be a mainstream hit.
Yet “Thrones’” has turned in to the dragon that lays the golden eggs — it has averaged some 18 million viewers per episode this season, more than 50 percent above even the much-watched “The Sopranos” finale. HBO Now subscribers spiked by 91 percent during the seventh season.
And HBO desperately wants to repeat that feat. However, when you take on a big franchise, it usually means a lot more cooks in the kitchen. And the pressure is so high everyone’s afraid to take chances. Which is why none of these mega-series may be the next “Game of Thrones.”
Indeed, the only thing we know for sure is that the next “Game of Thrones” will be nothing like “Game of Thrones.” The most original shows come, almost by definition, from left field, developed without the weight of network hopes or the baggage of viewer expectations. So, HBO is hedging its bets by also developing “Demimonde,” from J.J. Abrams. The series centers on a world’s battle against a monstrous, oppressive force. Not much new there, then.
Amazon may be about to experience a similar dynamic. Its game-changer could well be not an “LOTR” prequel but “The Power,” based on Naomi Alderman’s book about a future in which women develop electrocutive power and use it to topple a patriarchy. It will be directed by Reed Morano, who won an Emmy for directing Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
However, the next “Game of Thrones” may be none of these shows. After all, few are capable of ascending to the Iron Throne. And almost none can remain there.
But who cares, if it means that all of us fantasy/SF fans are about to have the time of our life?