But popularity alone does not make The Next Game of Thrones, though it is certainly one major factor. Plenty of TV series have that magic combination of critical and commercial success in their first seasons before fizzling out in the second or third. What makes a Game of Thrones or, dare I say, a Bridgerton, different? Well, for one, like Game of Thrones before it, Bridgerton is a TV show based on a many-book series, which provides a vast blueprint to pull from. Structurally, both source material series have many, changing POV characters. In A Song of Ice and Fire, the POVs characters change from chapter to chapter and, sometimes, from book to book. In The Bridgerton Series, the POV character changes from book to book. This makes for a particularly fertile narrative ground for adaptation, as the source material doesn’t solely privilege one or even a few characters or POV, leaving TV showrunners to balance the ensemble out in the process of adaptation.
Both stories are built around themes of family and power within a complex and often cutthroat world, and they both have a group of siblings at their heart, tying the many storylines together. I’m not hear to make one-for-one comparisons because, honestly, it is the opposite of my point, but I will say: Daphne, who values a more traditionally feminine life, has a lot in common with Sansa Stark and Eloise, who begrudges the pressure to get married and become a mother, is bascially Bridgerton’s Arya Stark.
Game of Thrones and Bridgerton‘s narrative interests diverge in some ways, but they are both structured around the affairs of ruling society, even if those dynamics and scenarios plays out in different narrative languages—i.e. violence/war vs. romance/marriage. In Game of Thrones, the weapon of choice is, well, weapons and the stakes are one’s life and the lives of one’s loved ones; in Bridgerton, the weapon of choice is gossip, and the stake are one’s lives and the lives of one’s loved ones, though measured against a different rubric. In Bridgerton and romance as a genre in general, domestic security and happiness, including and most especially for women, is treated as the valid and worthwhile goal that it is. It is depicted as a victory worth winning in the same way that the accumulation of male-coded political power and military might is treated in other genres.
And let’s talk about the power of the romance genre. Romance is a genre made by and for women and, because our culture tends to devalue the feminine, romance storytelling has a stigma that has historically kept many men and some women from engaging with it. Because of this, fans of romance are a traditionally an underserved audience when it comes to adaptation, despite it being the most lucrative book genre market. According to Glamour, the billion-dollar romance book industry made up 23% of the fiction market in 2016, but the TV and film industry seems surprised every time a Twilight, Outlander, or Crazy Rich Asians comes along, as if they have forgotten that women make up half of the planet’s population.
It’s only in recent years, most notably with the success of bigger-budget romance adaptation Outlander, that TV studios and distributors have started to invest larger budgets in unabashedly romantic fare, presumably because more women and more men who listen to women when they speak have become Hollywood decision-makers. (Though, by and large, the statistics are still dismal and depressing.) For whatever reason, the kind of storytelling that was once only seen in the sphere of the primetime soap (a valid venue in its own right, but one with modest budgets and limited crossover marketing) is now becoming more common in larger, more mainstream arenas. Bridgerton is the perfect example. With its sizable budget and broad marketing campaign, Netflix wasn’t just looking to capture the audience of a Shonda Rhimes broadcast venture like Grey’s Anatomy, but to rebrand romance as a mainstream genre, and the women who love it (many of them Black woman and women of color) as an audience worth investing in.