One thing’s for sure, Red Eagle Entertainment isn’t getting Wheel of Time confused with the Wheel of Morality. After airing their “pilot” Winter Dragon on FXX last night in a desperate attempt to maintain ownership over the TV rights for Wheel of Time, they’re now claiming that a full TV series will soon be in production.
It’s a situation I don’t envy and I can’t say I’m surprised by Harriet McDougal’s reaction. The truly puzzling bit in all of this is the involvement of Universal. Let’s examine some basics of the situation:
- Wheel of Time is arguably one of the most coveted IPs out there, selling more copies than any other fantasy series since Tolkien.
- The success of the Game of Thrones series has sent waves through the entertainment industry, sending companies scrambling after similar properties like Shannara and The Kingkiller Chronicle.
- Universal is a powerful, long-standing studio with the smarts to recognize a good thing (most of the time).
So what gives, Universal? Why would they allow the production of a super low-quality “pilot” that would only get aired as paid programming in the middle of the night on an obscure channel? The knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that somebody at Universal has either screwed up and given Red Eagle too much leeway, or that Universal had no clue. Both of those are very real possibilities, especially given that Universal wasn’t credited anywhere in Winter Dragon. But if that were the case, I would expect Universal to have made some kind of public statement similar to Harriet McDougal’s (although they may be keeping mum just to see how things turn out, since at the moment the drama seems to be focused on Red Eagle).
But I think there’s a third, very real possibility that is getting ignored. What if Universal was directly involved in the production of Winter Dragon? I’m imagining a scenario where Universal always had the intent to produce a TV series. It doesn’t make sense that Universal would acquire the TV rights to WoT and then just ignore them indefinitely, especially when those rights have an expiration.
It probably happened on Friday, January 2nd. I expect a phone rang and a young manager with aspirations answered.
“Hello, Johnson here.”
Johnson. I was just thinking, with all this Game of Thrones stuff going on, we should get in on that and this year. Don’t we have that Wheel of Time property?
“Yes sir. We bought the TV rights from Red Eagle a few years ago.”
That’s right, and we lose those rights if we don’t do something with it, as I recall. When does that happen?
“Yes sir. And the expiration for those rights is on…” There’s a pause while he types on his computer, which he was just about to shut down. “February 11th 2015.”
There’s a longer pause now.
Well then, we don’t want that to happen do we? Why don’t you give those chaps at Red Eagle a call and see what they can do. We don’t want to lose these rights Johnson, no matter what. I’m making you personally responsible: don’t let those rights expire!
The rest of the story is probably young Johnson desperately trying to get something done quickly in the gigantic, behemoth bureaucracy of Universal and struggling to get something, anything, in time for the Feb. 11th deadline. I imagine he ultimately failed to get the paperwork pushed through at Universal in time to have the pilot produced there, and had to ask Red Eagle for help. The results, as we’ve seen, were terrible. They didn’t need to be good though, they just needed to be in time.