FremantleMedia NORTH AMERICA (FMNA), continuing the expansion of its scripted television business, has entered into an exclusive, multi-year first look agreement with award-winning author Neil Gaiman. FMNA and Gaiman first began their relationship when the two joined forces to adapt Gaiman’s “American Gods,” which is set to premiere on the Starz network this spring.
This new far-reaching agreement will provide opportunities for FMNA and Gaiman to adapt any of his uniquely wide ranging works – from novels to short stories – for television. The deal also allows for adaptation of projects involving third party source material and intellectual properties. The partnership spans Gaiman’s involvement in all creative capacities, including as a writer and as a producer.
FMNA and Gaiman are already working together to identify a full slate of projects. It’s expected that upcoming ventures will encompass both original content, as well as existing Gaiman properties.
Commented Neil Gaiman, “Working with my friends at FremantleMedia on shepherding ‘American Gods’ to the screen has been exciting and delightful way to spend the last three years. I’ve learned to trust them, and to harness their talents and enthusiasm, as they’ve learned to harness mine. They don’t mind that I love creating a ridiculously wide variety of things, and I am glad that even the strangest projects of mine will have a home with them. ‘American Gods’ is TV nobody has seen before and I can’t wait to announce the specifics behind what we have coming up next.”
And with this news of a multi-year first look deal to bring other Gaiman works to the small screen, might his “Anansi Boys” novel also get the same treatment as “American Gods” has, whether at Starz or at some other network?
It’s more possible now than it’s ever been!
In 2014, it was announced that both Gaiman books were to hit the small screen at last – his 2001 novel “American Gods” and the semi-sequel, “Anansi Boys.” Gaiman confirmed this on his website in February 2014.
Originally set up at HBO, over a year later, Starz took over “American Gods,” with FremantleMedia’s North American arm producing, while rights to “Anansi Boys” reportedly went to UK production company Red.
As of today, the “American Gods” adaptation has become a reality with an April premiere set, with Ricky Whittle starring. And of note, in “American Gods,” Orlando Jones plays Mr. Nancy – the old trickster god of West African folklore more commonly known as Anansi, who spills over into “Anansi Boys.” However, since the 2014 announcement, there have been no public updates on the adaptation of “Anansi Boys”; although it certainly doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some movement that isn’t public. Today’s news that FremantleMedia plans to bring more of Gaiman’s works to the screen increases its chances of becoming a series as well.
“Anansi Boys” centers on the sons of the West African spider-god. It was to become a BBC mini-series produced by Red in 2014/2015 – a company that’s been responsible for some of the biggest UK hits of recent years including “Last Tango in Halifax,” and “Scott and Bailey.”
At the time, Gaiman said: “Yes, I’m really thrilled about both of these things. Fremantle has the harder task, as they are going to have to open up American Gods into something bigger than the book. Red are just going to have to make an absolutely brilliant faithful version of Anansi Boys.”
When asked for more information, a Red spokesperson said everyone was “very excited” but couldn’t elucidate further, adding, “I’m afraid we are in very early development with Neil at the moment.”
But back to Gaiman’s statement on Red making an “absolutely brilliant faithful version” of “Anansi Boys”… emphasis on “faithful”…
About 6 years ago (before any of the above plans were announced), while on tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of “American Gods,” speaking to Collider.com, Gaiman addressed the problems he had faced in bringing both novels to the screen, stating: “One of the things I’m concerned about is that I really want to make sure the races of all the characters are kept. I want to keep the racial mix in ‘American Gods’ the same. And, I want to make it faithful, but also would like it to have a few surprises for people who read the book…”
And specifically about casting Mr. Nancy, aka Anansi, and the adaptation of “Anansi Boys,” Gaiman added: “That was something I found deeply problematic with the attempt by some people who had a lot of money and a lot of clout, and who wanted the rights to ‘Anansi Boys,’ at one point. Somewhere in there, they made the fatal mistake of saying to me, ‘And, of course, the characters won’t be black in the movie because black people don’t like fantasy.’ They were suddenly very surprised that we were no longer interested in selling them the book.”
And I’m certainly glad that he didn’t give in to their demands, whoever these executives were.
Gaiman once said that Morgan Freeman would be his choice to play Mr. Nancy; he also said that, while writing the main character of “Anansi Boys,” Charlie Nancy (Mr. Nancy’s son), he had actor and comedian Lenny Henry in mind, who later narrated the audiobook of the novel. Although the book was first published 12 years ago, and Henry is now 58, much older than the character is written in the novel, so it’s unlikely that whenever the book does become a TV series, Lenny Henry won’t be starring in it.
If readers found “American Gods” hard to classify, they will be equally nonplussed but very entertained by Gaiman’s awesome mingling of the mundane and the fantastic in “Anansi Boys.” In the novel, “Fat Charlie” Nancy, as he’s called, leads a workaholic life in London, with a stressful job he doesn’t much like, and a pleasant fiancée, Rosie. When Charlie learns of the death of his estranged father in Florida, he attends the funeral and learns two facts that turn his well-ordered existence upside-down: that his father was a human form of Anansi, the West African trickster god, and that he has a brother named Spider, who has inherited some of their father’s godlike abilities. Spider comes to visit Charlie and gets him fired from his job, steals his fiancée, and is instrumental in having him arrested for embezzlement and suspected of murder. When Charlie resorts to magic to get rid of Spider, things begin to go very badly for just about everyone.
It’s uncertain whether “Anansi Boys” will eventually make it to the screen, big or small. But, again, with news of today’s expansive deal between Freemantle and Gaiman, to bring more of his works to the screen, one can only hope that “Anansi Boys” (which is a popular title) is one of them.
I’m encouraged by Gaiman’s unwavering public commitment to ensure that any screen adaptation of his novels are absolutely faithful to the source material. So any forthcoming announcements shouldn’t surprisingly reflect some new and unexpected thinking by the author, or the production companies behind the adaptation.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there have certainly been screen explorations of the Ananse myth; most recently, we featured Ghanaian American filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu’s short film “Kwaku Ananse,” a personal project for the artist, which draws upon Ghanaian mythology, combining semi-autobiographical elements with the tale of Kwaku Ananse, the trickster who appears as both spider and man. The film explored the theme of “doubleness.” It played at several international film festivals to critical acclaim.
Below is a trailer for Akosua’s short film, “Kwaku Ananse.”