I love it when Hollywood gets themselves into these situations. For years now we've been hearing about the potential development of a film version of "Wicked," a take on "The Wizard of Oz" told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Originally a Gregory Maguire novel published in 1995, "Wicked" became a wildly successful Broadway musical in 2003, and a film version of the musical is supposed to be in the works with Universal Pictures. There's been plenty of speculation about possible directors and stars, but the project has been stuck in development hell for years. This may be about to change.
Enter ABC. On Sunday, the Disney-owned network revealed that they're considering an eight-hour "Wicked" miniseries. Salma Hayek's production company Ventanarosa, best known for "Ugly Betty" (which had an episode devoted to the "Wicked" musical), would partner up with ABC Studios for the project. Though Universal may own rights to the musical version of "Wicked," they don't own the rights to the original Gregory Maguire book that it was based on, so ABC could make their own non-musical adaptation. Can't you just hear the execs at Universal freaking out? If ABC's "Wicked" makes it to air before Universal's "Wicked" make it to multiplexes, it could potentially take the wind out of the movie's sails. Or would it?
The "Wicked" musical is pretty well known as musicals go, so ABC runs a risk of alienating viewers who might be show up expecting showtunes. However, I suspect there's also a pretty big potential audience that isn't familiar with the musical or simply wouldn't care. Going back to the Maguire novel as the basis miniseries also helps, because it's very, very different from the "Wicked" musical. It's darker, much more serious, and has a huge chunk of material in it that never reached Broadway. I seriously doubt ABC would be all that faithful to the book, but they could use it to go in a different direction with the story. ABC and Disney actually adapted another Maguire novel for television a few years back, "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister." They turned a gloomy book into a much lighter, family-friendly TV movie. It wasn't bad either.
Then again, why adapt the "Wicked" novel again when the "Wicked" musical already did such a good job the first time around? Admittedly the songs aren't great, but I thought their take on the story was fantastic - especially the way they added humor and girl power themes and many, many visual references to the classic MGM "Wizard of Oz" musical. I like it far better than the book, which was too morose and tragic for my tastes. I've been anticipating the new film version because I think the "Wicked" musical would translate very well to the silver screen. A new version based on the "Wicked" novel could be good, but it's not the "Wicked" that I've been waiting for. I welcome the news of the miniseries version primarily because it might push Universal to get the film into production faster. And for the inevitable schadenfreude if the two productions do end up clashing, but that's a given.
Disney also has another Oz project lined up, "Oz: the Great and Powerful," a feature film about the adventures of the Wonderful Wizard before he met Dorothy, that might star Robert Downey Jr and might be directed by Sam Raimi. Since "Wicked" is also a prequel, hypothetically the two could be tied together in the same universe for a nice bit of corporate synergy. Also, depending on how their "Wicked" miniseries is written, ABC could go ahead and adapt the subsequent Gregory Maguire Oz books if the first series is a success. Currently there are two sequels to the "Wicked" novel, "Son of a Witch" and "A Lion Among Men." The "Wicked" musical changed certain story elements that would make it difficult to do any follow-ups, something the ABC version can take care to avoid.
The best case scenario is that both versions are produced, and we end up with two different, quality adaptations of "Wicked." The worst case scenario is that the projects are rushed or compromised and we get two lousy versions. Or both studios lose their nerve and neither get made. It'll be interesting to see how things play out. For the moment, though, the moral of the story is this: in Hollywood, good ideas should be capitalized on quickly, or they're liable to be capitalized on by your competition - especially when you don't have all the rights to the source material locked up.