Seven months later, we still haven't received any confirmation of the studio involved or any other information. This is unusual given the significance of the deal. With between 90 and 100 million copies sold, The Wheel of Time is easily the biggest-selling epic fantasy novel series since Lord of the Rings*, giving it a much bigger audience, name value and cachet than the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter Brett's Demon Cycle or other works of fantasy that have been optioned, if not indeed actually put into production (or in the case of Shannara, already filming a second season).
There are several likely reasons for this. There may have been a last-minute legal snarl-up which has put everything on hold. Given the contentious state of the rights, with the Jordan Estate in dispute with Red Eagle Productions (who optioned the screen rights in 2004 on an eleven-year basis), that is quite possible. It's also possible that the studio which has bought the rights has decided to hold back and make a much more substantial, "done deal" announcement with a showrunner confirmation as well. If the option is tentative, that may prevent another studio from trying to outbid them (which after an option is sold is unusual, but not impossible given the brand value of this particular series).
Here's what we know so far:
- A "major studio" has bought the rights.
- They are to make a big announcement at some undetermined point in the future.
- The Estate's legal contentions with Red Eagle have now been satisfactorily resolved, allowing the project to go ahead.
- This will be a TV series. The previously-mooted movie deal is dead in the water.
- Universal previously held the film rights but let them lapse.
- Sony Television held talks with Harriet McDougal (Robert Jordan's widow and chief executor of the Estate) and Red Eagle in 2014 about a possible TV project but it is not known if they are involved in this new deal.
Here's the text of the original announcement from 28 April 2016 in full:
The following is a press statement that has been approved by the studio involved in contract negotiations:
Update: Wanted to share with you exciting news about The Wheel of Time. Legal issues have been resolved. The Wheel of Time will become a cutting edge TV series! I couldn’t be more pleased. Look for the official announcement coming soon from a major studio —Harriet
And the last official word from the Jordan Estate, made on 9 September:
Sorry, folks, we would love to be able to tell you more about the announcement Harriet made in April, but according to the terms of the contract, we can't say anything more about it. We assume the next statement will come from the studio. We share your frustration.
Here's what is heavily rumoured but not confirmed:
- The deal is allegedly worth "eight figures" (so therefore $10 million minimum).
- Some well-known Wheel of Time fans may be involved in an advisory capacity on the project.
- HBO is not involved in the project whatsoever, already having their epic fantasy TV show (Game of Thrones) and recently confirming that they have started speculative, early work on a spin-off from that show as their next fantasy project.
- Given that the book rights have been purchased, we can assume the TV show will directly adapt the novels and will not be a new story set in the same world, or a prequel or sequel to the books.
- Given the money apparently involved, this will be a live-action project (an animated series would involve far smaller figures).
- Given the money involved, this would likely either be a cable or streaming (Netflix/Amazon) show. A mainstream network is unlikely to have spent so much money on an option alone.
I have previously speculated on how a Wheel of Time TV series should be adapted and undertaken. The current big debate in the fandom over the TV project is what studio is on board. I think the following options are possible:
- Sony Television previously held discussions with the Estate and Red Eagle. Having deep pockets and a string of recent hit shows (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Blacklist), this makes them a stronger contender for the role. They are also working on The Dark Tower TV series, a spin-off from the new film, which may have given them a taste for fantasy.
- AMC are currently on a roll with shows like The Walking Dead and Preacher. A Wheel of Time TV show would allow them to go head-to-head with Game of Thrones in the fantasy stakes. If Sony are developing the project, AMC (whom they previously partnered with on Breaking Bad) are the most likely contender to air the show.
- Starz have some big-hitting genre shows at the moment, such as Outlander and the forthcoming American Gods. Starz likewise are looking at big fantasy projects and may be the second-most-likely home after AMC on cable.
- Netflix have a lot of original content and are going all-in on it, producing vastly more original content in the next couple of years. A full-scale epic fantasy series, their own Game of Thrones, has to be an attractive prospect. They certainly have the funds to do it and a flexible release schedule, not to mention automatic worldwide distribution.
- Amazon have some very solid original content (such as the excellent Man in the High Castle), but arguably lack a killer app, a must-see show which gets people to sign up in droves. Wheel of Time could provide that. They also have access to sales figures of the Wheel of Time novels since 1998 and a much greater pre-built awareness of the franchise. I would rank Amazon as a more likely streaming possibility than Netflix.
- HBO already have Game of Thrones and Westworld as their mega-budget shows, and they are interested in a Game of Thrones spin-off show as their next fantasy project. According to rumour, HBO are highly unlikely to be interested in Wheel of Time.
- SyFy has spent big bucks recently developing The Expanse, The Magicians, Dark Matter and Killjoys. It is unlikely they have the resources to also buy and develop Wheel of Time.
- The CW has some additional critical kudos recently with The 100, but they have severe budget restrictions which makes them highly unlikely to be able to afford Wheel of Time, at all.
Hopefully, we won't have to wait too much longer until we can get some reliable information on what's going on.
* If you assume that Harry Potter isn't epic fantasy, as some do. Also, A Song of Ice and Fire has sold c. 70 million copies and is bearing down on Wheel of Time like a freight train, and already has far more sales-per-book (and thus overall readers) than WoT.