HBO exec on 'Game of Thrones': 'I hope it lasts for 20 years'

For months now, I've marveled at the courage of HBO's programmers, who took on "Game of Thrones" -- an enormously complex serialized fantasy based on a series of bestselling books by George R.R. Martin -- without even knowing how the story ends.

Turns out, though, that the fact that Martin has two books to go in his seven-volume "A Song of Ice and Fire" wasn't much of a problem for HBO programming president Michael Lombardo, because he hasn't read the first five.

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Emmy nominee Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones" Helen Sloan/HBO

Producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss have, and that's enough for Lombardo, who said Thursday that "there are people [at the network]…who work on the show who may have read the books, I think or are trying to get through the books. You know, I find out about the characters and storytelling as -- for instance, many things happen in the first season that I really didn't know until we had committed to the first season."

And committed he appears to be, at least to a point.

"I hope it lasts for 20 years," he told critics. "I can promise you we won't stop before it's ready to stop."

Said Richard Plepler, co-president of HBO: "We told George [Martin] we would go as long as he kept writing."

Anyone who takes that as a guarantee viewers won't be left hanging somewhere in mid-story might want to examine the fine print, though.

"I don't know where the show for us ends as opposed to the books.  It      maybe would be fantastic to be able to say, this show will go on for 10 years and do every aspect of the books.  I don't know that that will be the case."

Work on the show's second season has already begun. Asked why "Thrones" only gets 10-episode orders, instead of the more usual dozen, Lombardo said, "If we could do 12 episodes [a season] of 'Game of Thrones,' we would…There is no way they could physically do more than 10 without us making a decision to dilute the quality of the execution, to have [producers] be less hands-on, which is not, again, what we're about."