As a shock to nearly everyone, a pilot episode for Winter Dragon, a potential TV series based on the epic Wheel Of Time fantasy novels by the late Robert Jordan, aired on FXX in the early morning hours today and is now online (watch it here below).
With no promotions or warnings, viewers who caught the 30-minute pilot on FXX in the middle of the night were surprised that such a series existed and that it was debuting, including Robert Jordan’s Estate, which made a statement that the project was done without their knowledge or involvement.
It turns out, the pilot, which starred Billy Zane, is not an FXX series. It aired on the network in a paid spot — kind of like the way an infomerical does — purchased by Red Eagle Entertainment, the pilot’s producers who needed to get it on the air.
As to why it needed to air now, io9 spoke with Red Eagle’s CEO Rick Selvage, who told them, with “a lot of other properties, there’s always an airdate that you need to air something by… and that was certainly part of it.” As io9 points out, this translates to them having to air some kind of product by a certain due date or lose the rights to that property, which is common stipulation in deals for obtaining rights to books, etc.
Selvage went on to explain that the “Winter Dragon” episode was done with a high-budget production planned for the future, with announcements coming soon.
Winter Dragon was “a pilot for a high-budget production television series,” says Selvage. “We think there’s huge demand for the television series internationally, and we’re looking forward to producing it and getting it out in the marketplace.”
As to why they are doing a TV series instead of film, that’s a no-brainer: Game Of Thrones. Here’s what Selvage told io9:
“We felt the story for the Eye of the World was very complicated. You need character development, you have to build the world… And since Game of Thrones came out and did well on television,” with “high production values,” that showed that Wheel of Time could work on television as well.
Although what was aired is considered the pilot, it did not introduce the main characters from the series, as it is serving as a Prologue, based on the one from Jordan’s first Wheel Of Time book, The Eye Of The World (1984), which takes a place with the characters Lews and Ishmael about a century before the rest of the series (if they are following the books).
This was the description that came up on FXX:
Lewis Therin returns home to his family after a 10-year war against an army of darkness; he is greeted by an unexpected guest.
Meanwhile, the late author’s wife Harriet McDougal, who is CEO of the Bandersnatch Group, the company that controls the sale of the rights for the Jordan Estate, released the following statement today:
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 reoccurrence.
Harriet P McDougal
President and CEO
Bandersnatch Group, Inc.
February 9, 2015
So, according to the Jordan estate, Universal still has the rights, which are set to expire this week. When Universal acquired the rights, Selvage and Larry Mondragon were reportedly going to produce the project for Red Eagle Entertainment (see Universal Acquire Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time from back in 2008). Had Red Eagle not gotten something to show on the air by Wednesday, February 2015, the rights would have reverted back to the Bandersnatch Group. The Wertzone has more details about the history of the rights, and mentions that McDougal has previously stated that there were networks interested in Wheel Of Time so they could have their own Game Of Thrones type of Tolkien fantasy television series. But, as it stands, Red Eagle may have satisfied its obligation and therefore retain the rights. Since Red Eagle has sat on this one for so long, there’s really no telling what will happen next, but obviously, if they’re smart, they will cash in on Thrones’ popularity and make their own television series.