The original Game of Thrones pilot was famously a “complete piece of shit.” It was so bad, in fact, that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff threatened to release it on YouTube if Jon Snow actor Kit Harington ever said anything to piss them off. So, how did Thrones go from blackmail material to one of the most popular and award-winning TV shows of all-time? It’s partially thanks to the efforts of Tim Van Patten.
You might not know the name, but you know his work. Van Patten has directed episodes of Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood, Sex and the City, The Wire, and The Sopranos, including many of the show’s best episodes, like “Long Term Parking” and “Soprano Home Movies.” He was also behind the camera for the first (and second) episode of Game of Thrones after the original pilot was deemed unwatchable, as revealed in the new book, It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO.
Michael Lombardo, a top programming executive at [HBO], insisted [Van Patten] read [Game of Thrones]. Van Patten got through ten pages of it. “My head exploded,” he says. “This was way too much to digest.” Then Lombardo showed him the pilot. “This isn’t going to make it,” Van Patten thought to himself.
Eventually, Van Patten agreed to direct the pilot after more persuasion from HBO (and presumably a lot of money). “Shooting a pilot is really hard, and getting into a series is really hard,” Thrones executive producer Carolyn Strauss told authors Felix Gillette and John Koblin. “If you haven’t done it before, it can overwhelm. Timmy had so much series experience, and so much series experience at HBO, they had a lot of trust and faith in him.”
That trust and faith paid off, many times over.
It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO is on sale now.