The grotesque debacle over the graveyard-slot screening of the Wheel of Time-derived series pilot Winter Dragon on February 9th is escalating into one of the most despicable examples of how Hollywood and rights-mining companies treat creative properties and franchises. Now we have a lawsuit from the originating company, claiming that Robert Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal not only knew about the pilot, despite her denials, but also that she owes them money for the damage inflicted on the project by her statements. Red Eagle Entertainment, the parent behind the production company – whose only website page appears to be a press notice dated 2009 stating that it has “signed a strategic distribution agreement with Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: ERTS) for games based on Robert Jordan’s beloved fantasy series, The Wheel of Time” – apparently pushed the project in order to beat a reversion deadline which would have led to them losing the rights for the series. And now it seems they’re trying to shake down those who fingered them for it.
The full complaint on behalf of Manetheren LLC, Red Eagle’s production arm, is given on the latest Hollywood Reporter item on the case. After the pilot aired on FXX, Harriet McDougal issued a statement quoted on Facebook and apparently issued directly from rights-holder Bandersnatch Group, which reads: “It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney [Robert Jordan’s real name], was aware of this. Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch. I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.”
Manetheren, meanwhile, accuses her of making false statements about other contractual discussions “with knowledge of their falsity” and for tortiously interfering with the company’s contractual relationships and prospective economic advantage … both by calling into question the propriety of Manetheren’s rights in the Property and by causing public opinion to set against any film or television production that Manetheren might authorize.” She certainly seems to have done that – and very probably with good reason. Many fans and others would likely boycott anything out of Manetheren and Red Eagle now over their sensitivity to Jordan’s widow alone.
Presumably, Red Eagle has now concluded that one of the few ways remaining for them to make money out of the franchise is to sue it. And sueing the widow of the creator of a franchise beloved by hundreds of thousands of fans has to be one of the stupidest kamikaze moves ever pulled by a greedy producer in a hurry. Because that’s the only interpretation I can put on a move so perfectly calculated to alienate the essential fanbase. All writers out there, pray this never happens to your creation.