Wheel of Time s01e01: Winter Dragon. Review & rights issues.

By Nalini Haynes

This story keeps unfolding so I keep updating this post.

Review of the pilot

In this day and age of advance notice and media beat-up, Red Eagle  has managed the impossible: making a pilot for a beloved fantasy series without word leaking to the fans until the show made the radar when it was scheduled in the FXX TV guide.

i09 wrote in anticipation of the show:

I checked my DVR and have the same thing except mine doesn’t list a name, just “a man”. It does sound like it could be a Wheel of Time show even without the name. The prologue to Eye of the World did involve Lews Therin returning home after the War of Power and having an unexpected guest.

The episode, embedded below, is 29 minutes 55 seconds long including advertisements. Dragonmount, a fan, put the episode on YouTube.

Lews Therin definitely features as does his unexpected guest. The Wheel of Time logos abound as do the ghosts of Christmas past. That’s about all that does actually feature in this episode that relies on desperate fans tolerating a fantasy series with the pacing of a soapy like the Bold and the Beautiful, the melodrama of a soapy like the Bold and the Beautiful, sumptuous sets substituting for actual characters, acting and, y’know, actual things happening, just like the Bold and the Beautiful.

Many years ago I watched a few episodes of the Bold and the Beautiful. About 6 months later and again a year or two later I watched a few more episodes. Nothing momentous had happened: every episode seemed to cover about 5 minutes of talking and “deep and meaningful” looks. 6 months and a few years later I felt like I’d missed maybe one or two episodes because NOTHING HAPPENED. Just like in this episode of Wheel of Time.

Rights issues

While fans were surprised by the sudden release of this pilot, other people were even more surprised.

Tor says:

In a statement released early this afternoon, Harriet McDougal, the late author’s wife and CEO of the Bandersnatch Group, which contracted the TV and movie rights to the Wheel of Time book series to Universal Pictures, has made it clear that this pilot has never been seen or approved by the Jordan estate.

From McDougal:

This morning brought startling news. A “pilot” for a Wheel of Time series, the “pilot” being called Winter Dragon, had appeared…on Fxx TV, a channel somewhere in the 700s (founded to concentrate on comedy…)

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 [Robert Jordan was the author’s pen-name], 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.

Wheel of Time Winter Dragon logo

Use of the Wheel of Time logos in the credits and the story removes all doubt about whether it’s meant to be a WoT TV series.

In contrast to McDougal’s statements, i09 reports:

Rick Selvage, CEO of Red Eagle Entertainment and the executive producer of Winter Dragon, [told i09] “it was more of an [issue of] getting it on the air.”

Selvage had to be very careful about what he [said], but reading between the lines, it sounded as though his company has the rights to make a Wheel of Time TV series — but those rights were about to expire, unless they got something on television by a certain date.

Comedy? Craftiness?

If it was April 1, I’d assume this was an elaborate April Fools Day hoax on the part of a comedy-focused TV station.

In recent years we’ve had scandals like reports of Shia LaBeouf’s plagiarism of comics to create movies then his plagiarism of an apology. And all the weirdness that followed. Is this a violation of Universal Pictures’ rights? Is this a means for Universal to keep the rights without putting their name on the production? Because Universal’s logo seems remarkably absent from the footage.

If the pilot was made without Universal Pictures’ approval while Universal was holding the rights, surely those responsible are seated beneath the Sword of Damocles. Or the executioner’s axe.

If Universal continues this series at this standard, my screams of anguish will resound around the world. Another fantasy series, something that could be truly epic, invigorating the genre, has been tainted.

Not since the test pilot of the Pern TV series have my hackles been raised like this: Pern was given a Xena flavor and the story was re-written so Jaxom was a teenager in the pilot. While I enjoyed Xena, going all “Valley Girl” in Pern just — AAAARGH.

And now The Verge says:

It appears Universal had been working with Red Eagle Entertainment to bring the series to the screen when they received the rights in 2008. However, the terms of Universal’s contract with Jordan’s estate and their involvement with Red Eagle Entertainment’s pilot still remain unclear.

With the massive popularity in Game of Thrones, itself famously adapted from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, it’s easy to see why Red Eagle Entertainment would want to attempt to keep their rights to a similar epic fantasy series in an attempt to produce a TV series farther down the road. It’s a shame it had to have been done in such a clandestine manner.

It’s not just the clandestine manner, it’s the appalling standard of the pilot. Seriously.

The wrap

Don’t watch the episode unless you’re a masochist. If you love the books, you’ll be disappointed because what should have taken 5 minutes at most took up the whole episode. Then [spoiler] Lews walks up the stairs while flames appear in front of a dragon banner. So, basically, it’s “to be continued — with different characters”. It reminds me of that science fiction TV show, y’know, the one where they introduced interesting characters in the pilot then killed off every single interesting character. IN THE PILOT.  I never watched episode 2. The Wheel of Time pilot didn’t have interesting characters, only ponderous melodramatic bores who ended up dead. Because the Wheel of Time turns, baby.

Avoid.