Sunday 25 March 2012

The Wheel of Television Part 3: Shaping the Story

In the first two parts of this article series, I argued that the current plans by Red Eagle Entertainment and Universal to turn The Wheel of Time into a series of movies were impractical and unrealistic, and that adapting the books into an ongoing television series was more logical. This especially makes more sense in the wake of the success of fantasy TV projects such as Sky's Discworld TV movies and of course HBO's Game of Thrones. I concluded that getting the series made by one of the three big remaining cable channels (Starz, AMC or Showtime) was essential to give the project the right combination of high production values and a decent amount of time to adapt the complex storyline.

Story into Seasons
In the second article I suggested that it would be possible to adapt The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt (the first two books in the series) into one 12-episode television season. On paid cable, lacking advertisement breaks, this mean just under six hours to adapt each book to the screen (or three times as much time as a possible film adaptation). Whilst tight, this would be doable without too many storylines or characters cut. Later seasons could be more problematic (particularly adapting the 1,900 pages of the fifth and sixth books, The Fires of Heaven and Lord of Chaos, into just twelve hours) though the hope is that the series would be such a success that later seasons could expand to maybe 16 episodes each (as AMC has recently done with the third season of The Walking Dead).

At the same time, the later books in the series - particularly the eighth through eleventh - have some pacing problems and issues that the TV adaptation would do well to avoid by compressing the more stationary parts of the story into a shorter space of time, and perhaps moving things around.

Overall, I envisage the following structure as being potentially successful (note: SPOILERS for people who have not read the books):

Season 1: The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt
This season introduces the principal storylines and characters. Thematically it is Rand's story of self-discovery as he uncovers the truth of his birth and his destiny and initially tries to reject it. Season finale: the battle between Rand and Ba'alzamon at Falme and the destruction of the Seanchan expeditionary force by the Heroes of the Horn of Valere.

Season 2: The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising
This season sees Rand investigate the truth of his background and what he is fated to do. He decides to seize the reigns and take control of his own destiny and recruit his own allies. Season finale: Rand uniting the Aiel clans at Alcair Dal.

Season 3: The Fires of Heaven and Lord of Chaos
The turning-point of the series as Rand (and, to a lesser extent, his friends) become famous and major players in the affairs of governments as the continent falls into warfare and chaos. Season finale: the Battle of Dumai's Wells, naturally.

Season 4: A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers and Winter's Heart
Rand consolidates his gains and alliances, confronts the resurgent Seanchan and, ultimately, challenges the Dark Ones taint on saidin. Season finale: the Cleansing.

Season 5: Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm
Rand's journey into the heart of darkness and, ultimately, out of the other side. Season finale: Rand's epiphany atop Dragonmount and Egwene reunifying the Aes Sedai in the face of the Seanchan threat.

Season 6: Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light
Rand finally confronts the Dark One. Season/series finale: the Last Battle.

Of course, if the first two or three seasons are successful it might be possible to extend the series to seven seasons and cover two books per season, which would be easier in many ways. However, the slowing of the pace in the latter books as the story expands to cover ever more storylines and minor characters and the moving away of the focus from Rand and the other core characters is something that I feel on TV should be avoided. Post-Dumai's Wells, I also feel the story should start accelerating and moving decisively towards the ending.

With this structure, it should be possible to get the entire story of The Wheel of Time done in six years and 70-80 episodes. The majority of storylines and characters from the books would appear on-screen and the adaptation would be relatively faithful, and certainly far moreso than in a series of film adaptations.

Next time: the challenges of showing the One Power, Trollocs, Ogier and massive armies on a TV budget.


Brett said...

That sounds really good, Wert. I would definitely watch a show with that structure.

Next time: the challenges of showing the One Power, Trollocs, Ogier and massive armies on a TV budget.

There's the real challenge. It's especially troubling since you'll have to build elaborate Trolloc costumes as well as using plentiful CGI (even after shrinking the Trollocs down to human-size for production purposes). The magic adds another layer of difficulty, since it could end up looking really cheesy really easily if not done right.

On the other hand, other shows have done battles well. I just watched The Borgias, and I was astonished at how well they did battles, grand army shots, etc with only a $40 million season budget.

Jens said...

"plans by Red Eagle Entertainment and Universal to turn The Wheel of Time into a series of novels"

I guess this should read "a series of movies"! ;-)

Joshua Lowe said...

Aren't they already a series of novels :P

Anonymous said...

"I argued that the current plans by Red Eagle Entertainment and Universal to turn The Wheel of Time into a series of novels were impractical and unrealistic"

I think you mean series of movies, not series of novels.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the end of season two be a bit of an anti-climax after the Battle For Emond's Field that would have to be in the same season? Unless they could be combined into the final episode I suppose.

I'm not sure fitting two books per season would work all that well. Rand would be killing a Forsaken every 5 episodes or so in the first few seasons.

MJ Dusseault said...

I'm liking how this sounds. It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this. Hopefully the right people take notice.

Greg Sawyer said...

Good post, but you mean series of movies not novels in the first paragraph.

Mike said...

" I argued that the current plans by Red Eagle Entertainment and Universal to turn The Wheel of Time into a series of novels were impractical and unrealistic"... I would think that Tor and Robert Jorden would agree and would rather they not rewrite the novels :)

Rave said...

I really don't think this can be adapted well. Its going to be a terribly bastardised version, the quality will never measure up to Game of Thrones either.
Its going to pale in comparison and be dropped because its too expensive, too niche a community and importantly fans of the books will not neccesary be fans of a bastardised TV series.

The scale is far too large, we're lucky Game of Thrones was relatively self contained besides the Dothraki and I felt the Dothraki's magnificence was not done nearly as well. Wheel of Time triumphs on the magnificent which is something live action TV won't be able to do.

Animation is the way I'd love to see it done it but that is a pipedream.

Adam Whitehead said...

As a TV series the Wheel of Time would have several production benefits over Thrones. It is nowhere near as sprawling to start with. The characters are in one group for most of the first book, and divide into two or three strands for the next few. By the time you get to Book 7 or thereabouts it starts getting out of control, but the advantage of the TV series would be in ensuring the focus remains on the core storyline. Some of the minor subplots would be dropped or will happen totally offscreen.

However, as you say, a big practical issue is the lack of a central location, which means it'll be difficult keeping sets standing. GoT has the benefit of much of the core action happening in King's Landing and Winterfell, giving the production a solid base. WoT would have recurring sets like the palace at Caemlyn and the White Tower, but it would still be an added expense.

Still, it's not a total project-killer and there are ways around it.

Anonymous said...

Nicely thought-out! The depiction of magic is not so hard, but it shouldn't be cliche; if the witnessing character is male, then we should see saidin weaves; saidar would only be seen via it's results in the world (and the opposite for a female witness character) . As for locations; establishing shots can be done quite well with CGI and matte's (even the 1990s series "Babylon 5" depicted various home worlds and cities well, and with ridiculously paltry budgets). Imagine what 2012-13 CGI can do.

Anonymous said...

There are many reasons why WoT is unlikely to be turned into a screen play and here is just one them. Spanking, Thrashing, stripped and turned upside down naked. I’m sure S&M fans would love it but as practical product never. And it’s not like there just little of this sadomasochism; it’s rampant. Jordan has all his various cultures in his books interact in this fashion, more so women where this kind of humiliation and domination are the legal tender of women. The guy was a pervert; old men with young girls, young boy older women. Bear breasts, bear bottoms, lesbo fantasy world the guy was a freak to write so copiously about the subject all through the series.

Plus when you really start to examine his world that all his fans rave about, the credibility of it disintegrates. Examples the world of the Aiel, apparently they can live in the desolation of a desert existing on next to nothing but have a relatively massive population and if you’re a discerning reader you have wonder what do they exist on. Not only that on their frugal diet these men are larger than people who live in land where food is evidently more abundant. Other anomalies are that this population is able to be reproduced even when a large quantity of the women are also engaged in being warriors, many of these girls who fight are just in their teens but incredibly with a spear can best the best heavy armored knights. None of it is credible but the stupidest thing is that these people can out pace and out last a horse; get real! Fantasy only works when there is a degree of possibility and realism attached. The wise ones, women of power in the Aiel, they can run in long skirts unhindered by the side of a horse, how are they going to film that and what would it look like? And that is just scratching the surface of possibly the most over hyped and worst written book ever; a huge amount of text but that’s all.

Adam Whitehead said...

GAME OF THRONES, SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND and TRUE BLOOD all have way more extreme and outrageous content than any WHEEL OF TIME show would have. That's really not an issue at all.

Anonymous said...

It’s not continent that is extreme but the quantity of it. To develop WoT onto screen production with the amount of spanking that takes place in these books would be nothing short of soft porn. It would be very difficult to remove in ‘The Gathering Storm’ Egwene al'Vere gets her backside tanned perpetually page after page, chapter after chapter. It’s laughable to read but to view on screen would take it to a whole new level of nonsense. And this kind of stuff is there in epidemic proportions throughout the whole series and that’s not even beginning to touch on the banality of dialogue that the characters have in vast acres of an almost Mills and Boons manner of writing. Unlike Wot fans in their almost blind religious devotion to the series all other fantasy/sci-fi readers see the massive flaws that accompany Jordan’s writing. If it was every transferred onto screen then it would be fully exposed.

Adam Whitehead said...

A straightforward solution to the 'spanking obstacle' presents itself: minimise or remove it altogether.

ButtonPusher said...

If you have read the books you will know that it’s not possible to ignore the thrashings as there an integral part of the female interaction, strange as that may seem.

Adam Whitehead said...

The Aes Sedai being a hierarchial society that punishes indiscretions strictly is what is important, not necessarily the actual spanking itself.

This is literally the oddest conversation I've ever had on this subject. The normal objections are budgetary, the problems depicting channelling, and the issues surrounding the lack of permanant, regular sets etc. This is the first time someone's brought up the spanking as a possible project-killer :-)

Anonymous said...

Spanking - blame Leigh Butler, and her GREAT re-read.

Spanking is an issue with her, so it gets talked about a lot. Some of your posters are probably reading her.

I like the way you've laid out the books. One thing - the show would take 6-8 years to produce. The books only take 2-3 years. The actors would be aging much faster. Then again Hollywood loves to have 23 yo play 18yo.

I like the way you've laid out the books. One thing - the show would take 6-8 years to produce. The books only take 2-3 years. The actors would be aging much faster. Then again Hollywood loves to have 23 yo play 18yo.

Anonymous said...

So, where did the 4th part go?

Adam Whitehead said...

On hold until the WoT story so far summaries are done. I expect to get back to the TV posts in the New Year.