Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's next, Hollywood?

Now that we've had the Houdini miniseries, is Hollywood done with Harry? If the current list of Houdini projects set up around town is any indication, they are just getting started. But are any of these ever going to get made? Here's a rundown of some of the Houdini projects Hollywood currently has in development:

Houdini and Doyle - FOX (series)
Just last month it was reported that Sony Pictures Television had sold a 10-episode TV series called Houdini And Doyle to Fox, ITV, and Shaw Media. The series would be produced by David Titcher, David Shore and David Hoselton, and would feature Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solving mysteries with a paranormal twist.

Are we Wild? This same concept has come up again and again (as you will see below), but I'm excited about a TV series and this doesn't sound as silly as some of the other Houdini TV projects in development. And it has some serious talent behind it. Could be good.

UPDATEIt's on! Michael Weston and Stephen Mangan are ‘Houdini & Doyle’

The Secret Life of Houdini - Lionsgate/Summit (feature)
Houdini as a spy! (*sigh*) That's the "hook" of The Secret Life of Houdini, which has been percolating at Summit-Lionsgate since they picked up the rights to the Kalush/Slomon biography of the same name back in 2009. The project has since gone through a turbulent development. Jeff Nathanson, Gary Ross, Joe Wright, and Dean Parisot have all come and gone as potential directors. Johnny Depp is said to be interested in starring, but his commitment may have been overstated. Ryan Gosling has also been rumored.

Are we Wild? After the Houdini miniseries, I really don't want to see Houdini as 007, with or without Johnny Depp. But I think Lionsgate might also be over it as well. The studio were co-producers on the Houdini miniseries, which might explain why it tipped so heavily toward the spy angle.

Houdini - Sony/Columbia (feature)
Can you believe this project has been in development for 40+ years? [Read: The saga of Ray Stark and Houdini.] It looked like this was finally coming together with Francis Lawrence attached to direct and a fresh new concept involving Houdini and Chung Ling Soo. But then in 2014 Max Landis was signed to write yet another new screenplay. Since then, all has gone quite.

Are we Wild? I don't really know what Landis and Sony now have in mind, so I'm ambivalent about this one. Also, news of yet another new script and writer is not progress. This one feels like a full time resident of Development Hell.

Modern-Day Houdini - ABC (series)
The Hollywood Reporter has been in the habit of breaking Houdini "exclusives" that go nowhere. That appears to be the case with ABC's "Modern-Day Houdini" TV series. In 2013 THR reported that David Hoberman's ABC-based production company, Mandeville was developing the project with writers Jeff Addis and Will Matthews. The plot involves the ghost of Houdini partnering with "an unusually gifted female detective to solve the cases that baffle the LAPD." Yep.

Are we Wild? As silly as this concept sounds, I like the idea of a weekly Houdini TV series enough that I could live with this for a season or two. But as we've heard nothing in over a year, I suspect Harry's ghost is D.O.A.

Among The Spirits - Syfy (series)
In February 2011 Syfy announced plans to make Among the Spirits, a dramatic "steampunk" television series featuring Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solving mysteries in the 1920s. The series would be written and produced by Steve Valentine and Paul Chart, and is reportedly based on a graphic novel of the same name (although I've never been able to track down a copy). Last I heard the series had moved to NBC.

Are we Wild? I think this has potential and, again, I'd love a weekly Houdini TV series to blog about. Certainly seems more palatable than the ABC idea. But news of the FOX series may have knocked this out for good.

Voices from the Dead - DreamWorks (feature)
In 2011 DreamWorks purchased the original screenplay Voices from the Dead from screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski. The script finds Harry Houdini and, you guessed it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle teaming up with a psychic to solve a set of murders in 1920's New York. Since the purchase, there has been no news.

Are we Wild? While I want a Houdini feature film, a Houdini-Doyle detective mash-up isn't really the movie I want to see. But I'd still be there opening day.

The Houdini Box - 20th Century Fox (feature)
In 2012, 20th Century Fox-based Chernin Entertainment purchased the film rights to Brian Selznick's illustrated children's book The Houdini Box. The book tells the story of a young boy who receives a box from Houdini just before the magician's death. In 2013 Chernin announced that Irish filmmaker Kealan O'Rourke would write and direct the project. O'Rourke is a veteran of short films and animation, The Houdini Box would mark his feature film debut. There's been no word since.

Are we Wild? Ambivalent.

Carter Beats the Devil - Warner Bros (feature)
Based on the superb 2001 novel, Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold -- which features Houdini in a small but significant role -- this project has long been in development. Paramount originally optioned the book in 2002 for Tom Cruise to star and produce. Once that deal lapsed, AMC took a stab at turning it into a TV series. That also didn't work out. Then in 2010 the project got back on track when Michael Gilio was tapped to write the screenplay with Jon Shestack producing for Warner Bros. In 2012 it was reported that 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were in talks to direct. There's been no news since.

Are we Wild? Yes, it's a brilliant book.

The Arcanum - Gold Circle (feature)
Based on Thomas Wheeler's fantasy-adventure novel, The Arcanum finds Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and Marie Laveau teaming up to fight demons in 1919 New York. Wheeler penned the screenplay which was first purchased by Miramax in 1999. Gold Circle acquired the property in 2004. In 2007 it was reported that writer/director Randall Wallace had signed aboard to direct. No word since then. But Gold Circle is still in business, so presumably this one is still on the books.

Are we Wild? These multi-historical character action mash-ups never seem to work. But I'd still see it!

Houdini - Canal Street/Circus Road (feature)
The family film directed by William Dear from a script by Marty Colasuonno and Julian Ericsonn centers on "a young magician trying to save his family's animal rescue shelter with the help of a famous escape artist dog on the run from kidnappers." In 2014 Screen Daily reported that the Circus Road/Canal Street Films production would begin filming in Los Angeles in September. It now appears production will most likely happen in Canada in 2015.

Are we Wild? Sounds cute, but I hope they change that title. Calling it Houdini will cause confusion.

Young Houdini - Unknown
The film rights to Simon Nicholson's series of Young Houdini books have been sold, but to whom I have no idea. But there's a producer out there who believes the adventures of Young Houdini would make a good movie.

Are we Wild? Sure, I think Young Houdini could be fun. My hope is this was picked up by a UK production company for British television.

The Houdini Inheritance - Walden Media (feature)
In July 2012 The Hollywood Reporter broke the "exclusive" (again) that Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak had been hired to write an untitled Houdini project for Walden Media. According to the report, the story centers on "an unsuspecting high schooler who finds himself in grave danger when he discovers a family secret leading back to the legendary illusionist." Walden's is now out of business, but director Mark Waters said in 2014 that he was shopping the project to other studios.

Are we Wild? Mark Waters has said Houdini is in this movie in flashbacks, so that makes me excited to see it made. I hope he can set it back up at a new studio.

If you have news of another major Houdini project set-up with a studio or producer, or have fresh updates on any of the projects I've listed above, please contact me.

"Harrywood" sign image by Tom Interval of Houdini Museum.


  1. You would think with the massive success of Guy Richie's Sherlock films, that Hollywood would be very interested in a Houdini feature.

    Houdini And Doyle and Among The Spirits sound good, as long as they're period. If it's modern day, it could end up being like CBS' "Elementary".

    Also, regarding ABC's "Modern-Day Houdini" TV series, it sounds a bit weird, but it could be entertaining. Although I think ABC just cancelled "Forever", a show about an immortal medical practitioner living (forever) and working in NYC. He used his accumulated knowledge from an extremely long life to help solve murders. It may be too close to the Houdini-ghost-LAPD idea.

    If only HBO or AMC would take the reins and make a proper weekly Houdini drama. Now we're talkin'.

    1. The producer of the Houdini miniseries cited Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes as his inspiration. Unfortunately, I think that just translated to copying the editing style. But I've had people tell me the miniseries reminded them of Guy's Sherlock, so...the producer achieved his dream. :)

      Interesting about Forever. Pitching "ghost procedurals" must have been in fashion at ABC for a spell. In a crazy way, I liked the sound of this. I think it would have died a quick death, but it would have been fun to see what the heck they were thinking. I would love to get my hands on any scripts that might have been written.

      Speaking of that, some day I WILL read and summarize here "Harry's Back" -- the '80s ghost Harry TV movie.

      This singular fascination with Houdini and Doyle is bizarre. It really isn't all that great an idea, but Hollywood seems to be stuck on it. Crazy biz.

  2. If it ever gets made, I think the "Modern-Day Houdini" TV series could be a hit. It might attract the same audience as Ghost Whisperer (ABC/CBS ). The plot of the ghost of Houdini partnering with a female detective is quite similar to the Jennifer Love Hewitt show. And it was a hit for 5 years.

    1. This just shows how much I don't know about network TV. I had no idea about Ghost Whisperer. "It's the Ghost Whisperer with Houdini." SOLD!

    2. I'd green-light that. But it'll have to wait. Im working on my, "Houdini and Doyle: the original Starsky & Hutch" idea. Just think of it, Paul Michael Glaser could play dual roles.

    3. With ideas like that, you could run a network.

  3. I'm just blown away by the amount of possible projects on this list.

    1. And I'm sure there are just as many that we don't know about. But only a small amount of development projects ever get made. It's why we should never get too excited when we hear news of a Houdini project selling to a studio or network. That is frequently the last we will ever hear of it.

    2. But having said that, I do think we can get excited about Fox's Houdini and Doyle. If I had to bet, I'd say that is the only one of these that will actually get made.