HBO drama chief Francesca Orsi has taken a swipe at rival Amazon and admitted that the broadcaster has been taken advantage over star costs for the second season of Big Little Lies in an explosive panel session that also touched on Game of Thrones and its forthcoming spin-offs.
Orsi, speaking at the Keshet-organized conference INTV in Jerusalem, admitted that the premium broadcaster had been in a tough situation after the Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman-fronted “limited” drama was picked up for a second season.
“From a budget standpoint going into season two of Big Little Lies without any options in place we’ve been… um… short of raped,” she said. (Update: Orsi later apologized for her choice of the word “raped”.)
When asked a more general question about drama budgets by moderator, WME agent Marc Korman, HBO Programming President Casey Bloys also warned of the growing cost of high-end drama. “As a show goes on they get more expensive and as shows get more ambitious they will get more expensive. More money doesn’t always equal better but in some cases the scope of ideas do require it,” he said.
HBO is currently developing between three and five spin-offs of Game of Thrones and Orsi admitted that it was facing a budget “conundrum” if it goes forward with any of these. “There is a conundrum if we do take off on one of these Game of Thrones spin-offs, where do we start? We can’t obviously start with the budget of season 8 but would it be a Game of Thrones season three budget?”
Orsi and Bloys were at the read-through of the final episodes, which are set to launch in 2019 and it was an emotional, sweat-drenched event in Northern Ireland as many of the characters were killed off (although obviously they did reveal who, what or how).
“When we were in Belfast in October, Casey said ‘it feels like corporate malfeasance’ to not continue it, which is why it’s spawned three, four, five Game of Thrones spin offs,” Orsi added.
But Bloys warned that if Thrones had emerged today, the broadcaster would have been held ransom by agents. “If that were today, the books would probably come in packaged with a director and we’d be held ransom for a full season order or probably two seasons and the problem with that is to get it right we really did have to go through the development process.”
The pair, who were speaking alongside co-drama chief David Levine, also discussed the competition with streaming rivals such as Amazon, Netflix and Apple. They praised a weekly, linear roll out and a curated schedule as opposed to a volume business.
“The more crowded the marketplace becomes, when your brand is curated content, that means something not only to a subscriber but to a creator, going to a place where you know you’re going to be taken care of and maybe fussed over and really involved in marketing. That curation is more valuable now than it was five years ago as we doubled the amount of scripted series, knowing you’re going to a place where you’re going to have a proper launch and attention paid to your show is more valuable as we get deeper into this world,” said Bloys, highlighting forthcoming drama Sharp Objects.
However, Orsi was slightly less diplomatic, with particular focus on Amazon, who she accused of refusing to pay for the cast of Australian drama Picnic At Hanging Rock to attend the U.S. premiere.
“I don’t want to out some of the partners and producers that we work with but lately a couple of the prestige pieces that have come through our door are passionately saying they want to set it up at HBO because at Amazon they don’t get some of the benefits in marketing or, on Picnic At Hanging Rock, they can’t travel the cast to the premiere… Amazon is not paying for the travel, which is somewhat of a disgrace and they need to know that and others don’t want to get lost in Netflix.”