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Starz Developing Series Based on Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods.' Casting Will Likely Be Closely Watched

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 1, 2014 at 5:07PM

In 2011, HBO planned an adaptation of American Gods into a television series, but after 2 years in development, it was scrapped.
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American Gods

The race of the novel's main character, Shadow, is one that's been the source of debate since the novel was published in 2001. I'm not aware that the author, Neil Gaiman, has ever been specific about Shadow's racial make-up, other than to say, "[I]n my head at least he’s one of those people whose race doesn’t read easily — in the celebrity world, Vin Diesel’s an example of the same kind of look. But it seemed appropriate in a book about America that the hero was of mixed race."

It's been argued that, given evidence in the novel, Shadow's mother is African American. But Gaimain has remained seemingly intentionally vague on the subject. 

3 years ago, while on tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of "American Gods," speaking to Collider.com, Neil Gaiman addressed the problems faced with bringing his works to the screen, stating: "One of the things I'm concerned about is that I really want to make sure the races of all the characters are kept... I want to keep the racial mix in 'American Gods' the same. And, I want to make it faithful, but also would like it to have a few surprises for people who read the book."

Also, Mr. Nancy - Anansi, a trickster from African folklore - is a character that both "American Gods" and the subsequent "Anansi Boys" share. Gaiman once said that Morgan Freeman would be his choice to play that character.

You might recall, a few years ago, when we shared Gaiman's concerns over producers changing the race of his characters being a hindrance to bringing his novel "Anansi Boys" to the big screen: "That was something I found deeply problematic with the attempt by some people who had a lot of money and a lot of clout, and who wanted the rights to 'Anansi Boys,' at one point. Somewhere in there, they made the fatal mistake of saying to me, 'And, of course, the characters won't be black in the movie because black people don't like fantasy.' They were suddenly very surprised that we were no longer interested in selling them the book."

All that to say, I can only assume that, given Gaiman's unwavering public commitment to ensuring that any screen adaptations of his novels are true to their original sources, that this just-announced development won't reflect some new and unexpected thinking by the author. 

I am glad that it's on a premium cable TV network; although Starz wouldn't have been my first choice.

The plot for "American Gods" posits a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. Its protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a conman but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.

Starz has announced a script to series development of the 2001 novel, which has been translated into over 30 languages, and earned numerous accolades including Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel.

The pilot script will be penned by Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Heroes”) and Michael Green (“The River,” “Kings,” “Heroes”), who will also showrun the series. They will executive produce along with Gaiman. FremantleMedia North America will produce the series.

Starz Managing Director Carmi Zlotnik said, “‘American Gods’ is a project that deserves to be made. With our partners at FremantleMedia and with Bryan, Michael and Neil, we believe we can create a series that honors the book and does right by the fans and viewers.”

Commented Neil Gaiman, "When you create something like ‘American Gods,’ which attracts fans and obsessives and people who tattoo quotes from it on themselves or each other, and who all, tattooed or not, just care about it deeply, it's really important to pick your team carefully: you don't want to let the fans down, or the people who care and have been casting it online since the dawn of recorded history. What I love most about the team who I trust to take it out to the world, is that they are the same kind of fanatics that ’American Gods’ has attracted since the start. I haven't actually checked Bryan Fuller or Michael Green for quote tattoos, but I would not be surprised if they have them. The people at Fremantle are the kinds of people who have copies of ‘American Gods in the bottom of their backpacks after going around the world, and who press them on their friends. And the team at Starz have been quite certain that they wanted to give Shadow, Wednesday and Laura a home since they first heard that the book was out there. I can't wait to see what they do to bring the story to the widest possible audience able to cope with it."

In 2011, HBO planned an adaptation of "American Gods" into a television series, but after 2 years in development, it was scrapped.

FreemantleMedia then picked up rights to the novel earlier this year, leading up to today's news.

Needless to say, this is a project whose casting will be closely watched - especially by fans of the novel.


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