Sci-Fi Storm

The Wheel of Time TV series pilot that no one knew about

by on Feb.11, 2015, under Books, Television

Did you know FXX aired a pilot for a series based on the late Robert Jordan’s hugely-popular Wheel of Time book series? And that it aired in the wee hours Monday morning? Nope, no one else did either.

How could such a momentous occasion pass by so unnoticed by so many? Well, first let’s just say that “momentous” is most certainly not the correct word to use. Second, it was less about producing a true pilot as much as it was to meet a contractual requirement to retain the rights.

As we’ve learned from the Dungeons & Dragons rights suit, as well as Fox reportedly rebooting Fantastic Four just to retain the rights, most rights contracts for adaptations have clauses that say some minimum level of production is required to retain the rights, or they revert back to the owner of the original work. It doesn’t necessarily have to meet quality goals, unfortunately.

In this case, Jordan sold the rights back in 2004 to Red Eagle Entertainment to produce some films (although there were likely other options – reportedly some games were tried as well), with those rights apparently set to expire on February 11th, 2015 – today – if some goal wasn’t met. And getting a pilot on TV is ( or is at least believed to be) a goal.

So what did Red Eagle do? Apparently rushed a production on next to zero budget, and then, not finding any immediate takers, actually paid to have it aired as what is called “sponsored programming”, which is usually what we call infomercials. Thus, is can be said it aired on a cable network with a certain amount of audience reach – even if it aired at 1:30am. It will likely never air again either.

Missed it? We’ll, thank the gods for the Internet:

“Winter Dragon” appears to be set as a prequel for Eye of the World, with that novel being the center of at least the start of the series. But if that was a pilot to sell to a network, I don’t think it’s going to find takers. And this is a property you’d think major networks would be salivating over.

Perhaps even more interesting is that Harriet McDougal Rigney, the wife of Jordan and his editor, nor Bandersnatch Group, which controls the rights, were completely unaware that such a production was even being made, never mind aired – the following was posted on Facebook, and verified biy io9’s Charlie Jane Anders:

This morning brought startling news. A “pilot” for a Wheel of Time series, the “pilot” being called Winter Dragon, had appeared at 1:30 in the morning, East Coast time, on FXX TV, a channel somewhere in the 700s (founded to concentrate on comedy, according to the Washington Post).

It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.

Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.

I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.

I am dumbfounded by this occurrence, and am taking steps to prevent its re-occurrence.

Interestingly here is that Universal Pictures is mentioned…they are also one of the players in the Dungeons & Dragons case. Variety reported back in 2008 that Universal Pictures had obtained the film rights for the series and that Red Eagle Entertainment would in some way produce. That may not have included TV rights, which Red Eagle retained, but it would potentially put them in competition with each other.

It would be interesting to see how this might unravel, and whether it might give some actual traction to an actual adaptation.


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