George R.R. Martin is, fifteen years after crafting scripts for Beauty and the Beast and the revival of The Twilight Zone, finally a big name in television. And the pattern lately for major successes in TV series adaptations of bestselling novels has been for the networks to excitedly look for the next property with the novelist's magical name on it that can be turned into a new and equally successful project.
The Choice of Franchise
But the first "what can we adapt next" title with Martin's name on it isn't a straight novel like The Armageddon Rag (1983) or an expanded novella like Hunter's Run (2007). Nonetheless it's a project that very much has Martin's imprimatur on it: a sprawling anthology series he launched and edited in which he's collected scores of original, superhero-themed stories by some of the most talented authors in speculative fiction, himself included.
The rights to the anthology series in question, Wild Cards, has been purchased by the newly formed NBCU subsidiary Syfy Films as its very first project. Screenwriting duties have been handed to Melinda Snodgrass, a frequent Wild Cards contributor and its most important name beside Martin. Snodgrass has done a great deal of television writing both in straight drama (Profiler, Reasonable Doubts) and sci-fi (Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she was story editor and script consultant, The Outer Limits).
"Wild Cards presents a terrific franchise opportunity given the volume of material from this compelling fantasy series," said Syfy Film's Senior Vice President of Production, Gregory Noveck. (Noveck's own background as a producer includes the series Jeremiah and the innovative spy thriller Red). "We're thrilled to have the opportunity to develop a film based on the anthology's supernatural heroes, and to be working with such talented and visionary writers as George R.R. Martin and Melissa Snodgrass." Martin and Snodgrass with executive produce.
An Anthology of Heroes
Wild Cards has become a long-running enterprise, spanning nearly two dozen books issued by a succession of different publishers (currently it's caught a new lease on life at Tor) and adapted to other media. Broadly speaking they revolve around a common universe and sharing themes that relate more or less to the issues relating to heroes and the supernatural.
It's a great title, too -- adding a person with unusual abilities to the mix of human conflict is the very definition of introducing a wild card. And a film adaptation slots nicely into the contemporary assumption that our supernaturally assisted heroes are approached in the context of their lives as human beings (after all, even Thor was contextualized in this way).
More than one generation of sci-fi/fantasy names have been involved alongside Martin and Snodgrass, including Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Cherie Priest, Paul Cornell, David Anthony Durham, and Carrie Vaughn.
An Embarrassment of Riches
So the question becomes: Since Wild Cards is such a massive and variegated project, how will Martin and Snodgrass go about distilling its essence into a single 100-minute screenplay? Will Snodgrass lean toward the themes she developed particularly, or attempt to synthesize a general idea? I'm looking forward to finding out.
It's also a propitious start for Syfy Films, a corporate synergy venture between Syfy and Universal Pictures. They're planning on releasing two new sci-fi/fantasy films a year theatrically, and with Wild Cards as a first offering it's clear we can expect more than the kind of Z-grade fare Syfy itself often runs as original made-for cable films.
Meanwhile Wild Cards itself is still going strong: the twenty-second book, tentatively titled Lowball, is due out in 2012.