In a crowded television world where it has become very hard to get attention for a new show, being able to advertise it with the phrase "from the creator of Game of Thrones" goes a long way.
Not so long ago, the quality television market was limited to Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) HBO and the occasional prestige product from one of the major broadcast networks. The rise of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and the explosion of basic cable channels raising the quality bar has made the competition for eyeballs intense.
Sometimes, it's not enough to create a good show -- you also need a hook to get people to watch it. In many ways, HBO's hook has always been "We're HBO" and that has worked. Since House of Cards launched in 2013, the same has largely been true for Netflix -- overall reputation gets people to sample its new shows.
That, however, is not the case for most cable channels, making the value of a big-name hook very important. With Game of Thrones being one of the biggest shows on television, any new project from its author, George R.R. Martin, will get big publicity and big initial sampling. Add in the fact that the next show from the Thrones creator features superheroes and relatively easy-to-follow story lines and you can see why Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has stepped up to buy its rights.
What's Martin's next show?
It's worth noting that while it had a large following for a book, Game of Thrones was considered a risky television project. It has sprawling, often hard-to-follow stories and major characters die often. That has become an acceptable practice now used on other hit shows like The Walking Dead, but in 2011, when Thrones premiered, it was not the norm.
What Martin's show did have going for it was HBO's reputation. An epic production from the pay-cable channel was going to be sampled, giving it a chance to win over viewers.
Now, due to GOT, Martin no longer needs that. His name and the fact that he created one of the biggest hits running will bring eyeballs to his next show, the superhero anthology Wild Cards, which has been optioned by Universal Cable Productions, a Comcast company. Martin wrote about the deal on his website.
"Development will begin immediately on what we hope will be the first of several interlocking series," wrote the author, noting that his longtime partner on the project, Melinda M. Snodgrass, who has an impressive array of TV credits, is attached as an executive producer along with him.
Wild Cards is a series of books, graphic novels, games... but most of all it is a universe, as large and diverse and exciting as the comic book universes of Marvel and DC (though somewhat grittier, and considerably more realistic and more consistent), with an enormous cast of characters both major and minor. There are thousands of stories to be told in the world of the Wild Cards, and Gregory [Noveck] and Melinda and UPC hope to be able to tell many of them.
Unlike GOT, Wild Cards is not written solely by Martin. The long-running series features contributions by dozens of writers, creating interlocking stories in a shared universe where a virus has given some people superpowers while turning others into often-horrifying mutants.
This is a big deal for Comcast
While Martin is correct in saying that Wild Cards has a universe that compares to DC and Universal, it does not have the same level of recognition. Fans of Martin's series may be eager to see The Sleeper, Dr. Tachyon, the Great and Powerful Turtle, and the many other Wild Cards characters on their TVs, but none of them has the general public awareness of a lesser Marvel character like Ant-Man or Black Panther.
That, of course, was the argument made when Marvel first brought Iron Man to the big screen. The Wilds Cards universe may feature heroes and villains who are unknown to the masses, but they are easily recognizable characters who people will catch onto quickly.
On whatever platform Comcast airs Wild Cards, people will at least give the show a try as long as the company publicizes that it has a superhero show from the creator of Game of Thrones. If -- and it's a big if -- the cable giant can bring Martin's universe to the screen and tap its rich history of stories successfully, it should have a hit that offers Marvel-like expansion possibilities.
There is a long way to go from here to there, but Comcast may have much more than a potential hit show in Wild Cards. It may have its next big franchise.