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To Repair ‘Sport of Thrones’ Pilot, HBO Referred to as a Secret Weapon

HBO has at all times set itself aside, whether or not in making actual an inward-gazing drama about depressed mobsters, a boundary-pushing comedy in regards to the intercourse lives of 4 independently minded girls, or an unsparingly violent portrait of an once-great American metropolis introduced low by corruption and capitalism. HBO executives proudly took dangers. However recreation of Thrones was a novel beast. Sequence creators and showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff labored with writer George RR Martin for years to adapt his dense, lore-filled A Music of Ice and Fireplace novel earlier than G.O.T.‘s April 2011 premiere. The fantasy sequence could be distinctly totally different from HBO’s different airing dramas, together with the gangster-focused Boardwalk Empire and the campy, horny TrueBlood.

No less than that was the purpose. Then HBO executives obtained a take a look at the primary model of the pilot episode, “Winter Is Coming,” which felt so off that they had been pressured to utter two magic phrases: “Name Timmy.” On this excerpt from It is Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Way forward for HBOauthors Felix Gillette and John Koblin clarify the distinctive respect director Timothy Van Patten commanded at HBO and the way his work on recreation of Thrones modified the fortunes of the community that lately wrapped season one of many sequence’s first spinoff, Home of the Dragon.

A lot to the dismay of HBO executives, when the pilot for recreation of Thrones got here in, it was horrible—a convoluted, off-putting mess. Regardless of a lavish $10 million price range, the costumes appeared humorous. The hair and make-up appeared worse. And for a grandiose epic fantasy story, the pilot felt frustratingly claustrophobic. It lacked a way of grandeur.

Richard Plepler, the pinnacle of HBO, thought of pulling the plug. The community may reduce its losses. However there was additionally an essential precept concerned. The important thing to HBO’s fortunes, Plepler and his colleagues believed, was figuring out proficient, singular artists and doing all the pieces they might to help them.

After some consideration, Plepler determined to offer its creators a second likelihood. HBO ordered ten episodes together with a reshot pilot. To get began, HBO determined to modify administrators. They wanted severe assist. It was time to name upon the community’s prized secret weapon. It was time to name Timmy.

Tim Van Patten grew up within the suburbs of New York Metropolis, on Lengthy Island, and began his profession in TV as an actor. As a young person in 1978, he landed his first vital position, enjoying a high-school basketball participant in The White Shadow, a critically acclaimed CBS drama created by Bruce Paltrow. After spending a lot of his 20s performing, Van Patten needed to maneuver behind the digicam. “While you’re an actor in tv, the vast majority of your time is spent ready for one thing to occur,” he says. “And for me, I needed to be within the recreation. I needed to be the catcher, not the best fielder. I needed to see the sphere. I needed to be in each play.”

Within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, he started directing for a handful of broadcast TV dramas together with Touched by an Angel, a long-running, intensely saccharine spiritual sequence that aired on CBS. The present was all the pieces that HBO on the time was defining itself towards: cheerful, uplifting, fuzzily non secular, and predictably formulaic.

Regardless of the wildly totally different types and goal demographic, Van Patten obtained an interview with David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, earlier than the suburban mob drama premiered. “David sat me down and we had a discuss all the pieces however the present,” Van Patten says. They chatted about meals, comedies, gangsters, Italy, and Van Patten’s upbringing in Massapequa, a city populated by so many Italians and Jews that it was nicknamed Matzoh-Pizza. They hit it off, and Chase welcomed him into the rotation.

Within the years that adopted, whereas nonetheless doing the occasional episodes of Touched by an AngelVan Patten emerged as a key member of The Sopranos workforce. As soon as, earlier than the third season, he swung by the present’s writers’ room and advised everybody a couple of dream he had about Paulie and Christopher looking down a Russian mobster within the snow-covered woods in rural New Jersey. Chase liked it, and the dream ended up inspiring “Pine Barrens,” one of the well-known episodes of The Sopranos.

All through the years, when Chase discovered himself too busy to direct an episode he meant to tackle, he’d bark out the identical instruction to his producers: “Name Timmy.” Van Patten in the end directed extra episodes of the sequence than anybody else, 20 in whole, together with a number of the edgiest, most celebrated, and most violent.

Over time, phrase unfold within the HBO universe of Van Patten’s abilities, and he began directing key episodes of different HBO sequence together with TheWire, Romeand Deadwood. In the course of the high-stakes closing season of Intercourse and the Metropolisthe community requested Van Patten to come back in and assist, despite the fact that the present’s materials felt overseas to the director with the heavy Lengthy Island accent.

Someday, whereas on set, Van Patten was instructed to get a large shot. I’ve requested why.

“We should see the footwear — we should have the Mononcoli Boncoli footwear,” Van Patten recollects being advised. “No matter they’re referred to as — the Mongoli Bongoli footwear.” Even when he was solely dimly conscious of Manolo Blahniks, Van Patten was successful among the many solid and producers of Intercourse and the Metropolis, and he in the end directed 4 episodes that season, together with the sequence finale. The regard for Van Patten’s abilities was a sentiment shared extensively all through HBO’s troupe of auteurs.

“He is a tremendous storyteller,” says Terence Winter, who labored carefully with Van Patten on The Sopranos. “He is simply obtained an awesome visible type. Humorous. Adored by crews and casts alike. Actually easygoing. Actually enjoyable to work with.”

Now, with HBO making the most important gamble within the community’s historical past, betting an enormous sum on a rejiggered recreation of Thronesthe community as soon as once more turned to Van Patten and requested for assist.

Van Patten mentioned no. He was burned out after doing so many seasons of The Sopranos in addition to a number of episodes of ThePacific and an upcoming sequence referred to as Boardwalk Empire. Michael Lombardo, a high programming govt on the community, insisted he learn the e-book. Van Patten obtained by means of ten pages of it. “My head exploded,” he says. “This was approach an excessive amount of to digest.” Then Lombardo confirmed him the pilot. “This is not going to make it,” Van Patten thought to himself.

However Lombardo was persistent. You are the one one who can do that, Lombardo advised him. Van Patten gave it extra thought. Van Patten says that in contrast to in films — the place the director reigns supreme and, for many years, was singularly honored by amateurs and students and video-store clerks — an episodic-television director is like being “a substitute instructor” or “a touring salesman. ” Now HBO was in a severe jam, and the community had been so good to him through the years. I’ve lastly relented.

“As an itinerant director, it may be a reasonably lonely life, proper?” he says. “It is a bit of little bit of a Willy Loman state of affairs on the market. You are simply bouncing from present to point out, and you’ve got actually no pores and skin within the recreation. However at HBO, you felt you had been a part of an even bigger household, not simply the present you had been engaged on. Who the hell would not wish to be part of a household?”

After making a number of tweaks to the solid, the creators obtained began in the summertime of 2010. Van Patten directed the newly reshot pilot in addition to the second episode. Whereas on set, to get to the essence of the rambling, difficult epic, HBO’s ace present mechanic would repeatedly ask individuals close by a easy, reductive query: Is that this a very good man or a foul man? “Simply boil it down,” Van Patten says.

“Capturing a pilot is de facto arduous, and getting right into a sequence is de facto arduous,” says Carolyn Strauss, an govt producer of the sequence. “If you have not accomplished it earlier than, it will possibly overwhelm. Timmy had a lot sequence expertise, and a lot sequence expertise at HBO, that they had a number of belief and religion in him … What I believe works properly in tv is intuition and style that is shaped by expertise.”

The brand new pilot impressed everybody at HBO. Following their keep of execution, the recreation of Thrones workforce went on to finish the primary season. Plepler’s choice to belief his artists — and the community’s treasured director — would show to be the most effective within the community’s 50-year historical past.

Excepted from It is Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Way forward for HBO, by Felix Gillette and John Koblin. Copyright © 2022 by Felix Gillette and John Koblin. Printed by association with Viking Books, a division of Penguin Random Home LLC.

It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO by Felix Gillette and John Koblin

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