HBO is joining the true-crime parade.
The premium cabler is teaming with Breaking Bad duo Vince Gilligan and Michelle MacLaren, as well as exec producer/actress Octavia Spencer, for a drama based on Jim Jones and the deadly 1978 Peoples Temple Agricultural Project known as Jonestown.
The in-development limited series, which is called Raven, is based on the nonfiction book Raven: The Untold Story of Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman, a journalist who survived the events in Guyana. (The Associated Press called it the “seminal book on the story of Jonestown.”)
Raven tells the definitive history of the Peoples Temple, from its idealistic beginnings to its terrible end in Jonestown. The adaptation will focus on Jim Jones, but also on his followers, who, by and large, were ordinary people of good will. It tells the mysterious story of how so many of them came to give up their lives for this man.
Raven is the second drama taking on Jonestown in the works. A&E is teaming with Jake Gyllenhaal to develop an anthology drama that explores different American cult leaders, with season one focusing on Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.
Gilligan and his Sony Pictures Television-based High Bridge Productions will pen the script and executive produce alongside Octavia Spencer, who originally secured the rights to the book with Reilly Smith, with the latter on board as a co-producer. MacLaren will also exec produce and direct via her MacLaren Entertainment banner.
The drama marks the first collaboration for Gilligan and MacLaren following their Emmy darling AMC drama Breaking Bad. Should Raven go to series, it would become the latest drama for Gilligan, who currently exec produces AMC prequel Better Call Saul. MacLaren’s TV credits include Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and HBO’s upcoming David Simon drama The Deuce. On the feature side, she next will helm The Nightingale. Gilligan is repped by ICM Partners and Del Shaw. MacLaren is with ICM and Stone Genow.
Spencer, meanwhile, is not currently slated for an onscreen role in Raven. She will next be seen in Fox feature Hidden Figures.
The Peoples Temple was an American religious organization led by Jones in northwestern Guyana. On Nov. 18, 1978, a total of 909 Americans died in Jonestown — all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning — in what Jones called a “revolutionary suicide.” It ranked as the largest mass suicide/mass murder in modern history and until 9/11, and was the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act.
Raven becomes the latest true-crime-inspired project in the works as broadcast, cable and streaming outlets alike look to capitalize on the success of series like FX’s People v. O.J. Simpson, HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. The announcement comes days after The Weinstein Co. announced that it is producing Waco, a limited series about Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh starring Taylor Kitsch.
Other scripted true-crime projects in the works include TNT’s Finding Chandra, about the Chandra Levy case; Katrina, FX’s follow-up to People v. O.J.; Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Brothers at NBC; and a Patty Hearst drama in the works at CBS, among other unscripted and TV movie projects.