Listen, TV executives: I know Game of Thrones is popular, but you can’t go on this way.
Two weeks ago, we learned that Amazon has greenlit a multiple-season Lord of the Rings TV series. It’s set to occur either before the events of The Hobbit or in-between that book and the LotR trilogy. ** Imagine being the writer who’s got to sift through dialogue like this passage from The Silmarillion and translate it for television:
And Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of my clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwe, thy friend, whom thou lovest.’
**The first option is more likely, since placing the show in-between the two franchises would set up the audience’s expectation to see some of our elven, dwarven, or hobbit-y friends from Jackson’s films, and frankly, those folks are probably both too expensive and too committed to other projects.
Then today, I woke up to the news that Damon Lindelof, showrunner of Lost, is working out a development deal with HBO for a Watchmen TV series because “we need dangerous shows.”
Firstly, Watchmen is the best-selling graphic novel that’s been published up to this point. It’s won a Hugo award. It’s been deemed by several critics to be one of the most significant literary works of the 20th century. It was dangerous when it was published 30 years ago, but the world has changed. What about epics starring people of color? Women? LGBTQA characters?
In the early 2000s, I was working at Blockbuster** while attending college, and I watched a flood of LotR knockoffs pollute our proverbial shores following that trilogy’s success. As ever, the studios didn’t seem to understand why the films had resonated so soundly. We therefore got dozens of movies with dragons, men on horseback fighting epic battles, magic swords, and lofty speeches. It turned out that distilling a complex story people loved to a few items on a checklist was not a winning strategy, but Hollywood had done it many times before. The lesson never clicks.
**I’m already having trouble remembering that was a thing, and I shelved VHS tapes for nearly 2 years.
I think that to many of us, this sort of expansion that no one asked for reminds of us how we felt when it was announced that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit–a book that clocked in at only three hundred pages–would become its own trilogy. You can argue about whether or not all the additional material served the films well, but it was first and foremost a cash grab. “We made $3 billion–we can give these people ANYTHING with a hobbit on it and they’ll buy the lunchbox.”
Branding takes top consideration. Earlier this year, it was announced that the Kingkiller Chronicle, an excellent fantasy trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss, is being adapted for television, and when I did a Google search just now, every headline I found mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda, not Rothfuss. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Hamilton and of Lin as a human. But it’s made me angry to watch outlet after outlet attribute the books to a man who didn’t write them and only mention Rothfuss as an afterthought. You only do that when you think it’ll result in more clicks and thus more cash, and authors deserve better.
Fans know when they’re taken for granted. Story matters. The LotR and Watchmen shows appear to be in development solely because HBO has a hit with Game of Thrones, and the networks are hoping we’ll support anything that has a franchise we like tied to it.
And that’s simply not good enough.