What Will HBO Do After ‘Game of Thrones’?

Clock is ticking on Emmy behemoth and fan favorite

“Game of Thrones” was responsible for an astounding 23 of HBO’s Emmy nominations this year — and it took home the top prize of Best Drama on Sunday night. Its total number of Emmys now stands at a record-breaking 38. The series is no doubt the flagship program on HBO’s lineup.

However, take away “Thrones” and HBO is simply not what it used to be. While once the leader in adult dramas, the network is now getting used to competing in a new and fiercely competitive television market.

The trouble is that HBO doesn’t turn out successful programs like it used to.

There’s AMC (“The Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul”), FX (“Fargo,” “American Horror Story”), and plenty of others now making quality, HBO-level content. Add the flooded market to HBO’s recent struggles in creating new and compelling shows, and it seems the channel is more the “Game of Thrones” network than anything else.

So, what will they do when it ends?

A ticking clock is now set for the popular “Thrones.” With an end date set for 2018 and only two seasons left to air (consisting of a combined 13 episodes), HBO has to be planning for a future without the beloved fan favorite that has anchored the cable channel since 2011.

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The trouble is that HBO doesn’t turn out successful programs like it used to. Formerly the creative home for respected artists including David Simon (“The Wire”) and David Chase (“The Sopranos”), the network is now getting more press attention for being a headache of a workplace.

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Former HBO employee and “Oz” creator Tony Fontana recently criticized the network’s declining stature when he spoke at this year’s ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas.

“Success breeds fear as much as failure does. And that’s what happened at HBO. They became afraid that they weren’t going to find the next ‘Sopranos’ and they could actually dictate what the next ‘Sopranos’ was going to be,” he said. “The other thing that happened is that … Time Warner [which owns HBO] merged with AOL in an ill-fated marriage. And like what also happened with a lot of broadcast networks, the corporate nature of the day-to-day life at HBO changed.”

That change has certainly had an effect HBO’s reputation.

The network recently cancelled not one, but two television programs headed by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Gone Girl”) after already putting both into production, no doubt losing big investments and faith with fans.

Then came “Vinyl,” the highly promoted music business show produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. After limping its way through a less-than-stellar first season, the show was greenlit for a second — and then abruptly cancelled before production fully began, nixing the renewal.

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Even HBO’s new genre-heavy program, “Westworld,” which debuts in October, has already faced highly publicized production delays. The series looks to be an expensive answer to the impending “Thrones” series finale, but, so far, it doesn’t seem to be drumming up the same excitement as the top-rated fantasy wonder.

These recent troubles and more leave no question as to how valuable “Game of Thrones” is to the HBO brand.

Many fans purchase HBO subscriptions just to watch “Game of Thrones” when it airs.

The network even launched an online subscription platform called HBO NOW, presumably to capitalize on the number of viewers looking for HBO without those pesky cable packages — primarily, “Game of Thrones” fans ready to drop coin every year to avoid dreaded spoilers on social media.

Current programming on HBO fails to live up to the “Game of Thrones” standard, or even the standard of former shows like “The Sopranos.” “Girls” gets plenty of press attention, but regularly pulls in well below a million viewers each episode. Plus, ever heard of shows like “Silicon Valley” or “Getting On”? If you have, you’d be the minority.

HBO is the old guard now.

While the network had the market cornered on serialized adult dramas and critically praised awards contenders, that was before streaming giants Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon jumped into the original content game. It was before even channels like AMC had the glimmer of an idea to jump into creating original programming.

While HBO may be facing issues in launching another flagship show, you won’t find it sweating too much for the time being.

“Game of Thrones” has two years left (Season 7 will feature seven episodes in the summer of 2017 and Season 8 will have six episodes), and it’s more popular than ever. Still, even with the sparkly Emmys the show walked away with on Sunday night, HBO will soon be just another contender in a ferociously growing market once “Game of Thrones” inevitably ends.

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