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At crossroads, HBO must guard its throne

Meg James and Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

HBO has plans for several "Game of Thrones" spinoffs and prequels. And there are other highly anticipated shows in the pipeline, including the second season of "Big Little Lies" and "Watchmen," a new series based on the classic 1980s comic book.

The network is losing its Emmy-winning comedy "Veep," but it can continue to count on its established favorites "Silicon Valley," "Barry," "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" and "Westworld," along with a strong slate of documentaries.

Still, Plepler's departure has stirred anxieties. He was seen as the protector of HBO's brand, ambitions and renegade spirit. Plepler declined to comment.

At the recent Radio City Music Hall event, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys and producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss heaped so much praise on Plepler for his support of "Game of Thrones," audience members might have expected to see the former executive triumphantly fly out of the legendary theater on a dragon.

Instead, Plepler quietly exited the screening while guests headed to the post-premiere party at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. Some ruminated over the uncertainty ahead for HBO.

Plepler was not a longtime program developer -- he headed communications before being elevated to co-president in 2007. But he was a highly effective cheerleader who helped build HBO's quality mystique and was able to harness creative energy and risk-taking. His skills were clearly demonstrated through the success of "Game of Thrones."

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It was Plepler who signed off on a TV adaptation of the fantasy novels by Martin that included incest and dragons as plot points. He approved an expensive pilot and pricey re-shoots. He signed off on having two writers, Benioff and Weiss, run the series even though they were not seasoned TV producers.

The estimated budgets of $15 million per episode involved multiple overseas locations. Over its eight seasons, the series was shot in 10 countries and included more than three dozen special effects houses in 13 countries.

Over the years, more than 3,748 pounds of rubber and 1.5 tons of metal went toward weaponry, including 1,300 shields for soldiers. Producers used 52,000 bags of paper snow, 4,000 gallons of fake blood, 12,137 wigs and hairpieces and 12,986 extras in Northern Ireland alone.

Such budgets were unheard of in a television world where $5 million for an hour drama was long considered a splurge.

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