Game of Thrones producer to make Empress series
Mainland Chinese audiences will be the primary target.”
Brian Bernards, professor, USC
A new television series about Empress Wu Zetian, the only female ruler in China’s history, will be developed and produced by the producer of the hit TV series Game of Thrones, but industry observers expressed skepticism about the show’s potential to reach audiences outside of China.
Christopher Newman, producer at Game of Thrones that will wrap up after two more seasons, signed a deal with Starlight Media and K. Jam Media to develop and produce 13-episodes of Empress. It is budgeted for approximately $70 million, with production beginning in Sichuan in late 2017 and set for a 2018 premiere. The show will be offered to US broadcast networks.
Wu has often been depicted in pop culture as cunning, smart and a source of political force. She ruled during the Zhou dynasty
There are no details yet about the show, including whether it will feature a predominantly Chinese cast or what language the it will be in, and whether the story will be Westernized to appeal to a global market.
The format — one season, 13 episodes — is more similar to an American television one, but Michael Berry, professor of contemporary Chinese cultural studies at the University of Los Angeles, said the project is most likely targeting a Chinese audience.
“The ‘American format’ is a format that Chinese audiences are very accustomed to, thanks to the popularity of numerous American miniseries in China,” he said.
“The act that it will be in this ‘American format’ does leave the possibility of the series to be re-introduced to the US market, but there is not any great precedent for foreign language [television] serials doing well in the US market,” he added.
Having Newman attached to the project may bring credibility to the series, but the show’s success will ultimately be determined by the quality of its production, he said.
Brian Bernards, professor at University of South California, said the show could potentially have a fantastical element to it, given what Newman did with Game of Thrones.
“While I still think that mainland Chinese audiences will be the primary target — as I believe they are for Zhang Yimou’s new Great Wall film, despite the casting of Hollywood leads — there may be a secondary goal to tap into this niche fantasy market in the West,” he said.
He added that China-Hollywood co-productions makes it more difficult to distinguish between Western and Chinese audiences and tastes.
The show comes at a time when companies are beginning to make more China-geared content in order to sell to Chinese audiences. AMC released Into the Badlands starring Daniel Wu, telling a story of a martial artist living in a dystopian future. Wu’s star power in China helped AMC secure an international distributor that allowed the show to be aired simultaneously in the US and Asia.
US streaming platform Netflix created a China-centric show Marco Polo about the story of the explorer in China during the years of Mongol rule under the Yuan dynasty. The protagonist was played by an Italian actor and the cast heavily featured Asian actors.
Before the show aired, many saw it as a sign that Netflix was beginning to produce more content that would directly appeal to Chinese audiences.