HBO is looking to land another "True Blood"-caliber success with "Game of Thrones," an upcoming series based on author George R.R. Martins acclaimed fantasy novels.
Although HBO's programming president Michael Lombardo says he isn't particularly attracted to fantasy tales, Martin's popular novels offered a compelling exception.
"It wasn't the genre we responded to, it was the storytelling," he said recently during the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
Martin's "A Game of Thrones" was the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, which quickly won readers over when it hit book stores in 1996. It captured the 1997 Locus Award, and received nominations for both the 1997 World Fantasy Award and the 1998 Nebula Award. More awards followed for subsequent books in the series.
HBO is no stranger to discovering and producing profitable programming, having launched a pop-culture sensation with "True Blood," based on "The Southern Vampire Mysteries" novels by Charlaine Harris.
Like Harris' books, the story of "A Game of Thrones" has captivated readers, and HBO hopes to faithfully recreate that magic.
"There's enormous pressure on the 'Game of Thrones' people," Lombardo said. "It's a very sophisticated audience; you have to get it right."
And HBO co-president Richard Plepler credits the work of "True Blood" creator Alan Ball as an example of how to harness audience passion.
"Alan has created this extremely compelling and addictive world," Plepler said. "When you get passionate fan bases, they talk with each other and that's catalytic."
"Game of Thrones" will chronicle a treacherous clash among royal families to secure ultimate power of the vast lands of Westeros. The series, executive produced by David Benioff ("Troy," "The Kite Runner") and D.B. Weiss, will feature a strong adult tone, and its potentially nasty vibe could be classified as "Deadwood" meets a fantasy setting.
Despite speculation that the show's premiere could be delayed, HBO confirmed that it's still scheduled to premiere in the spring of 2011. Filming of the 10-episode season began in Northern Ireland in late July.
Some of the key members of the show's large ensemble cast include Sean Bean ("The Lord of the Rings") as Eddard "Ned" Stark; Lena Headey ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "300"), as queen Cersei Lannister; Peter Dinklage ("Threshold") as her cunning dwarf brother Tyrion; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("New Amsterdam") as Cersei's twin, Jaime; Emilia Clarke as the exiled queen Daenerys Targaryen; Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark; Jason Momoa ("Stargate: Atlantis") as Khal Drogo.
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