What’s the best way not to monkey around with a hit film when attempting to make a TV version of it? Just go completely bananas and actually don’t use that many of its original concepts.
That’s pretty much what executive producers Richard Suckle, Natalie Chaidez, Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett did with Syfy’s serialized version of 12 Monkeys. Or at least that’s what they made it sound like at a panel for the show, which capped off the cable portion of NBC’s 2014 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour on Monday.
According to Suckle, this show has technically been in production since the ’90s, when 12 Monkeys the film, starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, was released. He wanted to bring the concept of the Terry Gilliam’s time-travel thriller to the small screen way back then, but hoops and jumping got in the way of that. That is, until Matalas and Fickett’s pitch for a show seemingly unrelated to 12 Monkeys, but with similar DNA came to his attention.
“I got a phone call from Terry and Travis’ manager and he said to me, ‘I have these guys who wrote this script and it’s kind of like 12 Monkeys, and it’s kind of not like 12 Monkeys. I think you should read it.’ And I read it and I loved it. Then we sat down, we had a conversation, about turning their script … into 12 Monkeys,” Suckle explained to journalists from the TCA stage.
At first, Matalas and Fickett, huge 12 Monkeys fans, wanted to really adjust their vision to meet the one set out by director Gilliam and writers David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, but then they realized that simply couldn’t happen. “As we started talking with Richard, and further along with Natalie, we felt like where we were going was very different,” Matalas explained.
“The movie, as finite it is, suggests more story,” Fickett continued. “There’s these great side tracks that happen–whether it’s Cole going back to WWI, or you find out there’s other people that have been taken or used, or the fact that he’s in this penitentiary and you don’t know why–and that’s stuff we’re going to get into.”
The main, and most outright difference between the film and the movie is the fact that time travel is in fact real, and not just a possible figment of the imagination of lead character and era-jumping convict Cole (Willis in the film, Aaron Stanford in the show). This allows for a lot more discussion of the consequences of moving between time periods. As Matalas noted at one point in the panel, “Just because you can change the future, doesn’t mean you should.”
Several more specific changes will definitely be up for debate by fans when the show debuts next January, too. For one, the Jeffrey Goines character, made famous by Brad Pitt in the movie, will be played by a female (pssst, she definitely appears in the pilot). Also, forget about the strange sense of humour that Gilliam brought to the table. According to Fickett, “there will be weirdness–main scientist Jones is an homage to Jones at the end of the film–but [they] always wanted to keep this grounded and closer to a thriller.”
Emily is covering the 2014 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour live from the Beverly Hills Hilton from June 12 – 22. Tune in every day for new pieces and follow her tweets at @Cinefilles and @emilygagne.