More Details On Two TV Series Based On The Exorcist In Development

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The Exorcist looks ready to possess your TV not once but twice in the near future. You may have read about the new TV series being prepped at Fox but that’s only half the story…

Following the huge success of the The Exorcist in 1973/74, it was no surprise that Warner Brothers moved forward with a sequel, this time directed not by William Friedkin but by John Boorman. Exorcist II: The Heretic made its money back but was far from a financial success and over a decade passed before another sequel appeared. Interestingly this third film was directed by The Exorcist’s original author, William Peter Blatty. Unlike the first two films, Exorcist III was produced by Morgan Creek and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Then there were the prequels, also produced by Morgan Creek, about which a whole book could be written delving into the various production and post-production issues.

And now news comes in, via The Hollywood Reporter, that there will be an Exorcist television series. THR describe this new show as being a “remake” and implies that Jeremy Slater – the writer of the recent Fantastic Four reboot – is going to write a pilot script. That script is very much already written, though, and Fox and Morgan Creek are already making moves with it. This new take is an exorcism story and certainly takes some elements from the original – the premise is similar and the makers intend to use the “Tubular Bells” music, for instance – but for the most part it would appear, at least from the pilot script, that this is only very loosely based on The Exorcist source material.

Slater’s The Exorcist pilot is set in modern-day America, for the most part, and centres on a mid-thirties priest named Elliot Ortega, who presides over a smallish parish and a rather rundown church. He lives in a modest apartment and has a close relationship with his sister and her son. He doesn’t appear to be suffering a crisis of faith exactly but Elliot has a history, it seems, of breaking his vow of celibacy and you get the sense that he is perhaps drifting away somewhat from his position as a Catholic priest.

The pilot tells a concurrent story about an exorcism in Africa that centres on another, older priest, but to explain too much about this would give away significant twists within the plot. As would revealing the nature of the possession that presents a shift in Elliot’s outlook and kicks off the exorcism story that will no doubt be at the heart of the series. Suffice to say Elliot becomes involved with a family – father, mother and two daughters – who he must help. Slater has peppered his pilot with a fair bit of misdirection and there is the definite sense that whilst we may have some idea of the direction that events are going in he is still keen to keep the audience guessing.

This new series also, interestingly, has the potential for a number special effects sequences, beyond the obvious ones that we may imagine from the exorcism premise (bones cracking, heads spinning). We may be seeing creatures such as demons, for instance, although it is unclear perhaps as to how much these may physically exist in this new series or whether they simply exist in the minds of the characters.

The Exorcist 2

Whilst this is clearly not a retelling of The Exorcist story, this new series appears  to be building to something similar, even down to there possibly being two priests – one younger and one older – battling the possession of a young women.

Exorcist fans may be wondering at this point what link this new series has to the long rumoured television miniseries version of The Exorcism story that William Peter Blatty wrote and has been trying to get made for many years. The short answer it seems, is nothing.

Speaking to Cemetery Dance magazine in 2009 Blatty commented that: “I would love to have been able to include the subplot involving Karl and his daughter Elvira which I did in my first draft, but that script ran to 172 pages, much, much too long. But I might have it my way in the near future, inasmuch as I’ve written an Exorcist miniseries script that not only faithfully includes all the main elements of the novel, but also some rather spooky new material and scenes, as well as a totally new (and perhaps much more satisfying) ending. I’ve also updated it. Billy Friedkin has agreed to direct.”

But this intention to bring his original story to the small screen appeared to go nowhere, until a new rumour surfaced in March last year that the rights to this miniseries version of The Exorcist written by Blatty had been picked up by Sony. This came from a pretty reputable source, but seemed to go unnoticed by many and wasn’t widely reported.

Blatty’s television version of The Exorcist is clearly a remake, an attempt by him to reinterpret his own novel in a new way and for a new format, but still keeping the same story and characters. This is separate to the version that has been reported on this week and that is in development by Fox and Morgan Creek. Our understanding is that Morgan Creek hold the rights to use The Exorcist name, even if they don’t hold the rights to the original story. Significantly, the title page of Slater’s new pilot script states that it is., “Based on characters created by William Peter Blatty” and not based on The Exorcist.

So, we could be in a situation soon in which there are two Exorcist series in production and maybe even two that make it to broadcast; one of which is called The Exorcist but is not based on the original story and one called something else but is based on the original story and is written by the original author.

If these two shows do both get far into the process I think it’s that clear there’s going to be a lot of legal wrangling involved. And attempts to mark the two projects out as being different, whilst still keeping The Exorcist “hook” in the title. Perhaps, The Exorcist and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist?

Unlike previous rumours surrounding an Exorcist television series from Morgan Creek – including one to be directed by Sean Durkin – this new pilot seems to be moving ahead with some gusto and we wouldn’t be too surprised if the rumours of Blatty’s version being in more active development have helped move things along. Maybe we will get to see two competing Exorcist shows on television. And with Robert Kirkman’s possession related Outcast also hitting our screens soon (see here), it looks like exorcisms could be the new zombie.


 

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