(to the Small Screen)
By Melinda M. Snodgrass
So how did we get Wild Cards to television?
Well, it wasn’t easy. The development process in Hollywood has become even more Byzantine, like a fetch quest in a video game — fetch a hot writer, fetch a big name director, fetch a big name star, fetch a powerful agency to help acquire those various people by setting up a package deal.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was thanks to George and a generous opportunity that got me to Hollywood. I fell in love with screenwriting and wanted to do more in the industry. George at this point had returned home to write this little book series about warring kingdoms… yeah, we all know how that turned out….
Since George was busy, he turned Wild Cards over to me to try and get it set up in Hollywood. At this point there were only eighteen or nineteen books (sometimes I lose count), and after my years in Hollywood I was damn sure nobody was going to sit down to read that many. I needed a coherent way to present the coolness that is Wild Cards.
So I wrote a spec script that would set up the world and introduce some of the characters. I chose Croyd Crenson, aka the Sleeper, as my protagonist. Created by the late great Roger Zelazny, Croyd remains one of the most fascinating and iconic characters in the entire series… and he’s enormously versatile, which makes him very useful in a plot. For my female protagonist, I went with Pat Cadigan’s ace Water Lily. Because this was an adaptation I made some alterations to her character, but she was a good choice because she had a visual power. I had a few jokers, Doctor Finn in particular, but I changed his background as well, and gave him joker parents.
Next up I needed a theme. As I tell students when I teach screenwriting classes: plot is the shit that happens, theme is why it matters.
At this time we were at the height of the War on Terror with Homeland Security making us take off our shoes, and the NSA eavesdropping on American citizens. So I played off of a key event in Wild Cards history: the devastating battle between the Astronomer and Fortunato, with its attendant destruction of property and the deaths of ordinary citizens. I had a Dick Cheney-like figure use the resulting chaos to imprison all the aces in medically induced comas. It is into this world that Croyd awakens after a particularly long sleep.
I’m proud of that script. It got me a lot of meetings out in Hollywood, and a brief stint writing a game for Electronic Arts. It also attracted the attention of a development executive at Silver Pictures. They had made DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON, and THE MATRIX, among many other films, so I was really jazzed. We got all the way up to a pitch to the head of the studio, and he had some notes that he wanted addressed. So the exec and I and my manager rushed away to try to find a way to answer his objections. We were trembling on the edge of getting a deal.
And this is where the vagaries of Hollywood come in and the concepts of heat and momentum enter the equation. The studio exec (not to be confused with the development exec from Silver Pictures) was supposed to shepherd the project. It was she who had gotten this meeting with the top brass, but she had gone off first to the Golden Globes and then to Sundance, and even though we had addressed the notes and were ready to present again,she dropped the ball because of these other events. Weeks passed, the studio’s interest cooled, and we were finished.
Things lay fallow for a number of years. I kept trying to generate interest, and eventually that spec script got read at SyFy ( then it was spelled SciFi). I tried to develop Wild Cards as a TV show. That was a disaster. This was the era when SciFi didn’t want any… well… science fiction. Some of the top brass were actually embarrassed by Battlestar Galactica, their top rated show. They kept wanting to make Wild Cards funny instead of the gritty real-world mean- streets universe that it actually inhabits. Wild Cards died at SciFi too.
A few more years passed. Then a young producer, Gregory Noveck, asked a friend of mine who held the option on Wild Cards. That was me. Gregory and I were introduced and began developing a pitch for a feature film.
Now mind you, from the very beginning George and I have always thought Wild Cards needed to be a television series, but Gregory and I thought it would be best to get people interested and then move them to the idea of TV.
We were all ready to go out with our pitch when Gregory was hired to develop medium budget science fiction films for Universal that could then serve as a breeding ground for potential TV series for the SyFy Network. Wild Cards was a perfect first choice for this new division. Gregory and I pitched. They bought it and I was off to write a script.
Here’s the other thing you have to know about Hollywood. There are many cooks making every soup. In this case I had three executives giving me notes… many of which were contradictory. As is customary in Hollywood, I was thanked for my work after the second draft and they went off to find yet another writer. That didn’t work out well, probably again because of the enormity of our universe. Getting your arms around Wild Cards isn’t all that easy.
Once again things went quiet, and then Universal realized they still had the option and the contract gave them the right to develop Wild Cards for television. They exercised their purchase of the underlying material, and that is where we currently stand.
Right now as one of the executive producers, I’m more involved with the “fetch quests” then I am with setting the direction of the eventual show… though that is certainly part of our discussions. When you have a universe that almost rivals the size and scope of both Marvel and DC universes, it’s challenging. Fortunately they have someone on board as a writing producer who has been involved with Wild Cards from the beginning, and the people I’m working with really get this world. Our current execs is a fan and loves science fiction and fantasy the way we all do, so our hopes are high this time around.
Whatever happens next, we’ll be sure to keep you posted.