Westworld: from a movie to a TV show, how to scale success?

Westworld: from a movie to a TV show, how to scale success?
November 12, 2016 Laura K

Westworld started last begining of October with a very strong launch. Produced by HBO studio, it’s a TV show inspired by the 1973 film of the same title written by Michael Crichton about a futuristic theme park populated by artificial beings. After watching the first episodes, I love the serie already. Strong characters, talented cast, ambitious set locations, it looks like everything is in place for its success. But the fact that it first comes from a film intrigued me. What is HBO strategy behind this? How do you make a TV show as good as the original film, maybe even better?

Actually, it’s more the other way around; you first have a TV show that become so successful, that studios will make a film about it.  It looks like it’s a payoff strategy with many examples: 21 Jump Street, Sex in The City, Entourage, The Man from the UNCLE, Miami Vice, Mission Impossible, Star Trek and many others.

Compare to films, TV shows are specific formats that bring a different narrative structure to the story and require to think through the marketing promotion accordingly. They are simply not the same products. But  when you adapt a format to another, it could become a tricky business. Indeed you need a strategy to do it well. How do you guarantee the success of your adaption? For movie studios, when their films are based on a well known TV show, they already have a strong audience that love the franchise. So it’s way less risks for them. But what about when you adapt a movie that have been released in 1973 like Westworld? You definitely don’t have the same guarantees with your audience base!

Here are 8 secret tips from HBO that can help predict how Westworld the TV show is made to scale its film success:   

1/ Westword’s Writer Michael Crichton was a success maker

Michael Crichton directed Westworld the movie and created the all concept. And he actually had a great success with his film in 1973

His was mostly famous for his writing contributions for big mainstream releases.

He is the guy who wrote Jurassic park – another theme park story where the attraction takes back the power on the visitors:

2/ A Movie Producing team: JJ Abrams + Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy Nolan

Indeed, one very big name from the sci-fi world  if not THE one, and 2 others who form a very solid couple in the entertainment business. You read right, Jonathan Nolan is the younger brother of the famous director Christopher Nolan. The worked together on many of his films. I guess all those names help a lot when you need to found your TV show. As J.J Abrams, Westworld’s executive producer,  said “The production value of this thing is preposterous”.

3/ There are A-list artists and the best bag guy ever 

HBO managed to cast two super stars of the big screen, with Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris. When you can have those big names associated to your project, it is like a proof of credibility as for the founding as for the creative side of the producing.

And this role is just perfect for Ed Harris:

I’m a great fan. Actually, he is “Mister most traumatising Bad Guys I’ve ever seen” – Mostly in Enemy at the Gates 2001 Major König

4/ It’s a compromise mix between Far West Adventure & Sci-Fi

You have an interesting mix of genres that potentially are hard to come along. It’s like you are mixing Matrix Reloaded with the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

In the great Western tradition :

For the audience, you get amazing panoramas thanks to the many outdoor shooting locations mostly in Arizona. Purely entertaining.

And some serious Sci-Fi:

This brings a lot of questioning of our society and our need of purpose while using technology. When Men try to be God.

2 genres into one. It seems it can work when other tried but failed: Cowboys & Aliens 2011. And thanks to the first Westworld movie, we know it does and will for the TV show also.

5/ Because Westworld has to become the next Game of Thrones!

This is HBO expectation for Westworld. And you can notice some similar narrative trademarks already:

Like in GOT we are used to see epic episodes:

And a lot of dead people:

Number of death in GOT per season:


6/ There is huge money on the line

As I said, HBO expects Westworld to come after Game Of Thrones tremendous success. And to do so they invested accordingly. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that the first season cost around $100 million already for the 10 episodes. Westworld pilot alone would be in the $25 million range. To give you an idea, GOT pilot is around $20 million. With such investment, their intentions are clear: Westworld has to generate as much as GOT if not more. Actually, since the $100 Vinyl disappointment, this new TV show success is even more vital for the studio. This money represents the pressure how big Westworld has to perform.

Considering all the above assets that can bring Westworld success, they come with a price! Indeed, the studio has to pay a massive licensing fee to its corporate sibling for Westworld. Plus, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Harris and Hopkins are said to have scored $175,000 per episode each with a potential 2-year contract.

7/ Westwold has already a long term strategy planned ahead 

With its episodes written already until the 5 season, HBO is expecting this TV show to do the long run.

And the number of viewers is pretty much showing it will. I’m sure marketers are already forecasting the next audience peak. Westworld first episode reached more the 6 million viewers. This viewership is a massive improvement on the original tally of 3.3 million, even if it fall short of the Game of Thrones average. But it should be a pretty good relief for Westworld team and its optimistic future.


And you, do you think it’s going to be as big as GOT?


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