Fans given power over Gods as Gaiman book heads to TV

Fans given power over Gods as Gaiman book heads to TV

By Michael Pickard
July 23, 2015


When adapting a much-loved book for television, what’s the best way to keep the source material’s army of loyal fans onside? Get them involved.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel, is finally heading to television 14 years after it was first published.

Neil Gaiman says his 'baby is in good hands'
Neil Gaiman says his ‘baby is in good hands’

US premium cable network Starz announced last month that it had ordered a series based on the contemporary fantasy novel. The show has been in development at FremantleMedia North America since February 2014.

Translated into more than 30 languages, the book is set amid a war between old and new gods: the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots from around the world are steadily losing believers to an upstart group of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs.

The protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and travelling partner to Mr Wednesday, a conman who is in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.

The deal to finally bring Gaiman’s book to the small screen will end years of anticipation for its fans, who were left disappointed when plans for Tom Hanks to develop American Gods for HBO failed to materialise.

Now, however, the series looks set to hit production, with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green on board as writers and showrunners. Gaiman himself will also write some of the episodes, much to the delight of his supporters.

American Gods was first published in 2001
American Gods was first published in 2001

When the series was announced, the author said: “I am thrilled, scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of American Gods to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands.

“Now we finally move to the exciting business that fans have been doing for the last dozen years: casting our Shadow, our Wednesday, our Laura…”

Fears over Starz’ plans for the series were also dispelled when the network CEO Chris Albrecht said it was “committed to bring American Gods to its legions of fans.”

He added: “With our partners at FremantleMedia and with Bryan, Michael and Neil guiding the project, we hope to create a series that honours the book and does right by the fans, who have been casting it in their minds for years. The search for Shadow begins today!”

With that final statement, Albrecht sent fans’ heads spinning into overdrive after it emerged that the start of production rested on finding the actor who would play the show’s lead character.

But in an attempt to utilise the novel’s huge online fanbase, Starz invited fans to suggest who they think should play Shadow Moon using the Twitter hashtag #CastingShadow.

The response has been huge, with hundreds of tweets posted with the names of actors not only to play Shadow Moon, but countless other characters as well.

Among the frontrunners for the fans’ choice for the lead role is Jason Momoa (top left), best known for his role in Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones and now appearing in SundanceTV’s The Red Road.

Jason Momoa, pictured here in Game of Thrones, has proved a popular choice among fans to play the lead role
Jason Momoa, pictured here in Game of Thrones, has proved a popular choice among fans to play the lead role

Other suggestions include Luther star Idris Elba (top right), Criminal Minds actor Shemar Moore, The 100’s Ricky Whittle and Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams.

The suggestions are endless and the debate will rage on, both on Twitter and elsewhere on the web, until a name has finally been cast – and then the debate will reignite once more.

That’s the fine line networks and producers tread when adapting a popular book for television (or the movies). They know they will have a lot of buzz around the show from an existing fanbase, which becomes a ready-made audience, with many more looking forward to catching up.

Yet from the casting process to the series’ identity and the treatment of characters and storylines on screen, that same audience will enjoy constantly comparing the book and the show.

By engaging with fans and leading the debate on Twitter, Starz and Fremantle have shown respect for American Gods’ existing popularity and that they care about how fans respond to the project. What that loyal army of readers will make of the finished series, however, is truly in the hands of the gods.

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