Syfy has ordered three new mini-series, all adaptations of classics, two of which are being seen as back-door pilots (in other words, if they're successful – and cheap – enough, we'll get a series). They are a retelling of Alice In Wonderland, a new version of comic book superhero The Phantom (which clearly can't be any worse than the Billy Zane movie) and an adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld fantasy series of books.
"The four-hour format allows us to command large dollars around the world for our shows that puts about ($4 million-$6 million) of production on the screen per hour," said Robert Halmi Jr, president and CEO of RHI entertainment, which will produce the three mini-series for Syfy. "It gives the network a chance to try a concept with the same production values, if not better, than you'd get for a series."
Now for the bad news. The new Alice is written and directed by Nick Willing, who was responsible for the turgid Wizard of Oz revamp Tin Man (not so much somewhere over the rainbow, as somewhere drizzly and dull and talky). Worryingly, while describing the new approach for this mini series, SyFy bigwig Mark Stern says: "Lewis Carroll was more concerned about politics and satire then telling a mythological story. You're not really engaged with Alice in a proactive and emotionally fulfilling way." So, what's the betting some parent/child reconciliation plot is going to be shoved in there with all the subtlety of a Cillit Bang advert.
When it comes to the Phantom, you'd think they were on safer ground, because, as Halmi Jr points out: "That there hasn't been a successful Phantom leaves the door wide open for us, since nobody has made it their own yet," Halmi said. Fair enough. But this is the man who helped produce the new version of Flash Gordon, so we'll reserve judgement. Meanwhile, Stern reckons: "It's not a guy in purple tights," which either means a) he needs to go to SpecSavers, b) he's getting the Phantom mixed up with somebody else, or c) the new version will be abandoning the classic costume altogether.
Riverworld apparently has the most series potential. The novels are about a planet where every human from Earth’s history is resurrected in perfect health along the riverbanks of the one enormously long river. Characters in the story's world will be portrayed by actors in their 20s, so somebody like Napoleon wouldn't be "a balding man with his hand in his coat." "Part of the fun of this is the reveal of who each character is," says Stern.
Alice is planned for this winter, while Riverworld and Phantom are due in 2010.