In case any non-fantasy fans have been living under a rock the past few weeks, there is a lot of hullabaloo surrounding the Wheel of Time TV “pilot” produced by Red Eagle Entertainment that “aired” during a paid infomercial time-slot at 1:30am on FXX. The Wertzone has a fairly succinct account of the affair, and the following lawsuit filed by Red Eagle, directed at Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan’s widow and head of the Bandersnatch Group (Jordan’s estate). I’ve been following this affair on Twitter and in the online media since it broke. I’ve been somewhat vocal about it on Twitter, but mostly stayed out of the discussion on the news articles. A lot of the comments have directed their displeasure towards Harriet, accusing her of being a greedy widow riding out her husband’s legacy. First things first. Harriet is not simply his widow, she was also his editor. Some of the greatest and most important moments of the books are due to her genius as well. She worked to get the series completed after Jordan (real name: James Rigney) passed away. She is still working to produce a massive Wheel of Time encyclopedia, due out this November. She has in no sense simply been living off of her husband’s work – it is very much her work as well. So, as I may have mentioned in a text message, “reading online comments about how Harriet is a greedy woman using her husband’s genius to extort money from this poor production company is drivel I cannot abide.” Despite this I restrained myself and kept off the forums. However, when my Goodreads group had a thread going I couldn’t restrain myself and had to jump in. What was supposed to be a short comment became something of an epic rant. I decided I might as well re-post it here, because if it is important enough for me to write a several-thousand word rant, then it is important enough for me to share with a wider audience.
Reposted from Goodreads:
I think if this pilot were the first transgression again the Wheel of Time fans it wouldn’t have caused (quite as much) of an uproar. Unfortunately, Red Eagle Entertainment has been screwing us over for the better part of the last decade. This is the straw that broke the fandom’s back. The fact that one of RJ’s final blog posts pretty much called out the company for a total lack of respect didn’t help our opinions, to be sure, but we were already pretty dissatisfied with them before he passed away.
Back in 2004(-ish – I still had to negotiate with my parents for use of the phone line to get internet connection, so the dates may be slightly off), The Wheel of Time rights were bought by a little company called Red Eagle Entertainment. Red Eagle was (supposedly) started by “fans” of the series who wanted to see it expand into other formats. The name “Red Eagle” is in reference to the Red Eagle of Manetheren, a city of historical importance in the book series, so of course the fandom totally jumped on board to support their endeavors. At the time (long before Legend of the Seeker or Game of Thrones made it to TV, just after Lord of the Rings did so well at box office), this was big and exciting news, because there weren’t many (any?) other epic fantasy series at the time that had made big announcements about this sort of multi-media potential.
The first expansion into another medium was supposed to be the comic book adaptation of New Spring, the Wheel of Time prequel novel. The comic books were to be produced by Dabel Brothers, and, I have to admit the artwork was quite spectacular. Everything was quite detailed and precise. Of course, the fact that RJ was still around to give his input at the time was an important factor as well. In any case, the quality of the comics was high, but the production rate was abysmally slow. So slow, in fact, that they sort of stopped production after 5 of a promised 8 issues. A lot of people (myself included) had pre-ordered the comics, but never received the final 3 issues. In fact, I was given no notice that the production had stopped. I wasn’t aware (until a few years later) that the story had been completed by a different team of artists (with noticeably poorer quality) and bound into a complete graphic novel.
By that point Red Eagle was promising the moon in terms of upcoming plans – tv shows, movies, video and computer games. We’d all watched them crash and burn at managing the production of comic books, so we were left scratching our collective heads at how they’d manage to pull off a more complicated and costly production. We watched them spectacularly fail to produce content over the next several years, still peeved over their disregard of the fans who supported their early endeavors, and never quite getting over the disrespect they showed towards RJ. We had almost been lulled into a false sense of security, having not heard much from them over the past few years (their website hasn’t changed since 2005). And then there was this debacle.
It has been essentially confirmed that the pilot was thrown together in approximately one week. The quality is pretty horrendous; RJ is is probably still spinning in his grave. While I don’t know any of the specific details about who has how much creative power with what rights regarding the film deal, I can’t imagine RJ selling them without having some sort of clause about maintaining some sort of creative input at the time. Does Red Eagle have some sort of legal claim and right to protect their property? Possibly. Does Harriet have a right to declare her displeasure at this occurrence? Also possible.
Regardless, the fan rage isn’t entirely about the shady circumstances surrounding a crappy television pilot. It is about a decade-long string of empty promises and disrespect to the creators of a series we have grown to love. It is about a company continually asking for the fan’s monetary support while failing to produce content and making it quite clear they have little to no regard for the fans themselves. We have been putting up with this nonsense for over almost a decade and we just can’t take it anymore. Regardless of how the legal battle shakes out this entire situation is frustrating, depressing, and infuriating. Red Eagle had the fan’s trust and support once upon a time, but they have repeatedly betrayed that trust, and lost our support long ago. The pilot and subsequent announcement of the lawsuit has released epic levels of nerd rage for sure, but it has been long-pent up and much repressed. I am, of course, very interested to see how the legal issues resolve, but the outcome won’t change my opinion of Red Eagle or anything they become involved in. They’ve let too many chances go to waste. They don’t need anymore.
So, yes, right, wrong, or otherwise I have definitely chosen a side. It will probably lead to disappointment and tears, but I’ve been reading this series a long time, and I’m too emotionally invested to pretend otherwise. My sword is out and its hilt is wrapped in red cloth. Tai’shar Harriet!