It’s tempting to read into Universal’s decision not to move forward with Ron Howard’s extremely ambitious take on The Dark Tower, and create labyrinthine theories about why the studio gave up on it: Maybe executives don’t believe that a geek audience would buy into it in enough size to make it profitable! Maybe Stephen King properties are cursed! But no matter why Dark Tower seems to be dead for now, one question remains: Who will manage to pull off the TV/movie crossover trick first?
Despite what you may think about Dark Tower as a story, Howard’s plan to start the story in a movie, before continuing it through a season of television, back to a movie, then back to television, and so on, was potentially groundbreaking, if filled with all manner of obvious flaws (What if the movie flops at the box office, or the television show doesn’t get enough viewers to be financially responsible to continue? What if there’s another writer’s strike, knocking one piece off-schedule? Where are the storybreaks that decides whether something goes in the movie or the television show, and how far do you have to change things from the novels in order to make that happen?), but above all, it was exciting. From the first time it was mentioned, the idea has sparked all manner of excited discussion, speculation and what everyone likes to call “buzz” about the project, based as much on the format as any content contained therein.
And why not? We’ve gotten used to transmedia by now, with stories expanding through ARGs online, or web-exclusive scenes, DVD extras, and so on, and this just feels like the next step in that direction – One that we’ve almost been trained to expect by the increasing number of serialized movie series, exemplified best, I think, by Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Avengers (I’ve suggested in the past that Marvel should be following the Dark Tower model with its television plans – in other words, tying the shows into the movie continuity), with Cap even finishing with a trailer for Avengers next year. But even that is just an extention of the lessons the audience have learned from television shows like Lost and, to a lesser extent, Battlestar Galactica and the like – that you can tell longform stories successfully onscreen, but that the audience has to tune in and keep up in order for it to happen. The audience knows how to do that, now; we’re familiar with keeping track of movie continuities and television continuities – and if we slip, there’s always the internet and the mass mind behind it to help us – so all we’re really waiting for is for someone to join the dots.
If Marvel isn’t going to do it, their former partner should: Paramount has Star Trek, after all, and I’d be surprised if they couldn’t get CBS interested in producing a Trek TV show that takes place in the gaps between movies in the reboot universe – especially if JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were involved. Or perhaps DC could jumpstart its troubled movie franchise with some television build-up? What if James Cameron decided to get in the game with Avatar on television? Or George Lucas and the much-mooted Star Wars live-action series… Could that spin off into movies at the same time?The problem is likely to be one of logistics: Who can come up with a story – or a universe, perhaps? – that’s big enough to be worthy of both mediums simultaneously, from both an audience and narrative standpoint? Because the idea is out there, already, and waiting to happen. It’s really only a matter of time.