After a long protracted and badly handled rights war over the biggest fantasy series of the 1990s, Sony announced they’ve got a deal in place to bring Randland to our TVs.
Before there was Harry Potter, before there was American Gods, before there was Outlander or A Song of Ice and Fire, there was The Wheel of Time.
The Eye of the World, the first in the 14 book series, was published waaaay back in January of 1990, and was the first “modern” fantasy series to attempt to take up the mantel of J.R.R. Tolkien with a sprawling epic sent across a huge continent, and a hero’s journey starring not one, but three leading men: Rand Al’Thor, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, as well as leading women Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara. The author, Robert Jordan, like George RR Martin, set out to write a trilogy, but “the tale grew in the telling.”
The irony that Martin beat Jordan to the punch to get his fantasy series on TV has never been lost on fans of the series. The two were fast friends, and it has been rumored that it was Jordan who encouraged Martin to write ASOIAF in the first place. (It was Jordan’s glowing praise on the back of A Game of Thrones that convinced me to buy it and read it, while I waited for the next Wheel of Time installment to arrive.) That Jordan passed away before the WOT series was completed is partly what drives ASOIAF fans to worry endlessly about Martin’s health as we wait for The Winds of Winter.
But as Game of Thrones took off, and it seemed like every channel (even MTV) were grinding out fantasy series to take advantage of the boom, fans have asked, where was The Wheel of Time? Locked up in a terrible deal Jordan had agreed to back all the way in the early aughts, with a company called Red Eagle Entertainment. Where Martin, being savvy about the TV business, sat on the rights to his novels until HBO came along and proved themselves a worthy producer, Jordan had foolishly handed the rights over to a company completely unable to handle a series of his size–not even able to make a decent video game with it, let alone a movie or TV show.
All this came to a head in 2015, as Red Eagle’s rights to the series were about to expire. In a last-ditch effort to keep them, they produced and “aired” a pilot to the series–one so comically awful and low-budget it was laughable–in order to claim they had fulfilled the terms of the contract. (“Aired” is in scare quotes–since there was no TV deal, they bought an hour long infomercial block and aired it there, in the wee hours of the morning.) Lawsuits followed, as Harriet Jordan, Robert’s late wife, fought to get the rights back, and the books under a filming deal before the fantasy boom went bust.
Today it seems she has succeeded. Fantasy Peak TV is still in high gear, with not one, but two contenders for the Iron Throne Game of Thrones will soon leave empty this month (The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods.) Outlander has dropped its first trailer for Season 3 this fall. Thrones itself debuts season 7 in only a couple months time. And Variety reports, Sony Pictures Television has made the deal with a partnership of Red Eagle and Radar Pictures to bring The Wheel of Time to our screens in April 2018.
Rafe Judkins is attached to write and executive produce. Judkins previously worked on shows such as ABC’s “Agents of SHIELD,” the Netflix series “Hemlock Grove,” and the NBC series “Chuck.” Red Eagle partners Rick Selvage and Larry Mondragon will executive produce along with Radar’s Ted Field and Mike Weber. Darren Lemke will also executive produce, with Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal serving as consulting producer.
It’s an amalgamation of a marriage for sure, and a slightly “too many cooks” looking one at that. Plus there’s the issue of the Wheel of Time series having not aged well either, and Jordan’s odd tics–especially when it came to writing women–growing less palatable as the times have changed. But with Game of Thrones ending in 2018, what better series to charge in at the 11th hour and swoop up the “highly complex political and moral parable of our time” title than the series that preceded them all? Let’s hope it’s a show worthy of the fan’s long wait.