As the Ebola virus continues to dominate the headlines, producer Lynda Obst and director-producer Ridley Scott are bringing the deadly pathogen to the small screen with a limited series for Fox TV Studios based on Richard Preston‘s 1994 nonfiction best-seller The Hot Zone.
For the past year, the pair quietly has been working on the property, which they optioned two decades ago and never let lapse, hiring Jeff Vintar (I, Robot) to adapt. But the project became incredibly timely a few months ago when the current outbreak — the deadliest manifestation of the disease to date — began to emerge in West Africa. Ebola has ravaged several countries in Africa, killing some 4,400, and has since spread to the United States, claiming one victim in Texas. Two nurses who cared for the Texas patient have tested positive for the disease, which kills about half of the people who contract it. This week, it came to light that one of the nurses flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before testing positive, setting off a new wave of fears that the disease will continue to spread.
“I think it’s the speed with which it kills that makes the disease so frightening,” Obst tells The Hollywood Reporter. “People hoped it would stay in some remote part of the world. But that’s a fantasy in the modern world. The modern world makes us one big connected family.”
Preston is writing a piece for next week’s New Yorker magazine (The Hot Zone started out as an 1992 article in the New Yorker), chronicling the current outbreak. Obst and Scott, who originally conceived the project as a film that Scott would direct for 20th Century Fox starring Jodie Foster, are in conversations to option Preston’s latest article and would work it into the series, which spans the history of the disease, including a 1989 incident in which primates at a quarantine facility in Virginia became infected with a mutated version of Ebola.
Obst and Scott have the inside track on the new article because Preston has been working with the pair for the past year on the limited series. Scott, who would potentially direct at least the first episode, will serve as an executive producer alongside Obst, David Zucker and Jim Hart, who wrote the original feature screenplay Crisis in the Hot Zone. Once the disease’s latest twist is incorporated into the series’ script, Obst and Scott will take it out to networks.
“A limited series is a great way to do this because you don’t have to limit it to a three-act structure like you do with a film,” Obst adds.
Scott is in postproduction on Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film he directed and produced for Fox. On the TV front, he has Killing Jesus in production for National Geographic Channel (the project is based on the best-seller by Bill O’Reilly). Obst has one of the hottest films of 2014 on the horizon: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
Obst, Scott and Vintar are repped by WME. Obst is additionally handled by attorney Lev Ginsburg, and Vintar is additionally represented by attorney Sandy Fox.