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It's Not TV Co-Writer Felix Gillette Explains How True Blood Paved The Way For Game Of Thrones - Exclusive

While HBO enjoyed years of success leading up to its award-winning crime drama "The Sopranos," the venerable cable network was faced with the inevitable question of what would fill the void left by the blockbuster series after it came to an end. It was a daunting prospect, considering that during its six-season run from 1999 to 2007, the series racked up 21 Emmy wins — including three statuettes each for stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, and two for Outstanding Drama Series — on top of dozens of other nominations and was loved in equal measure by critics and fans.

Veteran business and media journalists Felix Gillette of Bloomberg News and John Koblin of The New York Times examine HBO's dilemma after the end of "The Sopranos," as well as other major events in the TV juggernaut's 50-year history in their new book "It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO" (Viking). While it may be easy to assume that "Game of Thrones" was the next big show to come along and attract the massive amount of attention that "The Sopranos" did, Gillette said during an exclusive interview with Looper that there was actually a series in-between that proved vital to HBO not only in terms of the big numbers of viewers it attracted, but the viability of its programming strategy going forward.

'True Blood' proved HBO was ready for genre programming, Gillette says

"Game of Thrones" proved to be HBO's "next megahit" after "The Sopranos," but a certain supernatural vampire tale that kicked off a year after the mob drama concluded showed the TV giant that there was a future for the network in genre programming.

"'True Blood' was important for HBO because that was a popular show for HBO at a time when they really needed something after the end of 'The Sopranos.' They had a couple dramas completely flop: 'John from Cincinnati,' most famously, and then 'True Blood' hit," Gillette said. "It was also important because 'True Blood' proved that HBO could do a genre show — a sci-fi show, and people would show up in big numbers to watch it. They hadn't really done anything in that category since 'Tales from the Crypt' [which ran from 1989 to 1996]. There was a lot of skepticism in the development process with 'True Blood,' like, 'Does this really feel like an HBO show? Is this going to work?'"

In the end, "True Blood" —  starring Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer — ended up running longer than "The Sopranos," casting a spell on viewers for seven seasons from 2008 to 2014. "Game of Thrones," meanwhile started in 2011, and dominated the TV industry with its eight-season run, which concluded in 2019. While both series ran concurrently for a time, Gillette credits "True Blood" as a series that was crucial to "Game of Thrones" success.

"When 'True Blood' hit and was popular, that paved the way for 'Game of Thrones.' HBO said, 'We can work in this sci-fi world. We can make it in an HBO way,'" Gillette told Looper. "It was the first thing that topped 'The Sopranos' in terms of its impact on the culture and its popularity, its ability to travel overseas, get viewers all around the world, and be a crazy, huge, pop phenomenon."

Felix Gillette and John Koblin's book, "It's Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO" is available in stories and online.