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Don’t call it an American Gods sequel or spinoff.
Anansi Boys, the 2005 fantasy novel from Neil Gaiman, has been ordered to series at Amazon. The six-episode limited series will begin production this year in Scotland as casting has already heated up for the drama that, like Gaiman’s novel and his since-canceled Starz series American Gods, revolves around Mr. Nancy.
Amazon — which has an overall deal with Gaiman and recently handed out a long-delayed and surprising renewal for the author’s Good Omens drama — says Anansi Boys follows Charlie Nancy, a young man who is used to being embarrassed by his estranged father. But when his father dies, Charlie discovers that his father was Anansi: trickster god of stories. And he learns that he has a brother. Now his brother, Spider, is entering Charlie’s life, determined to make it more interesting, but also making it a lot more dangerous.
American Gods, which aired for three seasons on Starz before being abruptly canceled, featured fan-favorite Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy (aka Anansi). Jones — who contributed writing amid the troubled second season of the Fremantle-produced series — said he was fired from the series after Charles “Chic” Eglee (Dexter) decided his character was sending the “wrong message for Black America.” Jones, sources say, is not going to take on the role in Anansi Boys.
Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon will reunite on the project as co-showrunners after the latter directed all six episodes of Good Omens season one. Gaiman and Lenny Henry — who narrated an audiobook and has voiced Spider and Anansi in BBC radio productions — are on board as writers on the series alongside Arvind Ethan David (Jagged Little Pill), Kara Smith and Racheal Ofori. Gaiman, Henry, Mackinnon, Hanelle M. Culpepper, Hilary Bevan Jones and Richard Fee exec produce the series. Culpepper (Star Trek: Picard) will direct the pilot, with Jermain Julien (Grantchester) and Azhur Saleem (Doctor Who) also helming episodes. Paul Frift will produce. Amazon Studios, the Blank Corp., Endor Productions and RED Production produce the series.
Anansi Boys has been in development at Amazon for more than a year, but Gaiman revealed in 2014 that both it and American Gods TV series were in the works. The Anansi Boys show was previously set up with RED at the BBC, with the latter no longer involved in the Amazon take.
In a release confirming the pickup, Amazon noted that Anansi Boys will tell a stand-alone story and pointed out that it was not a spinoff of American Gods as “the book’s story was originally developed in conversation between Gaiman and Henry with the series adaptation reuniting the collaboration between the pair.” In another point that distances Anansi Boys from Starz’s American Gods, Fremantle — the studio behind the latter show — is not involved in the Amazon series.
In March, when Starz canceled American Gods, the Lionsgate-backed premium cable network was in talks with Fremantle to find a way to wrap up the story with either an event series or movie. There has been no news on that front since. For its part, American Gods had a long and troubled road during its run. Original showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were pushed out after creative clashes with producers Fremantle that included disputes over the show’s rapidly escalating budget. (Co-stars Kristin Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson followed the showrunners out the door.) At the time, most of the scripts for season two had been completed. Jesse Alexander (Hannibal) was tapped to run season two and was effectively pushed to the sidelines amid friction between Starz and Fremantle while Gaiman attempted to assert greater control over the genre drama. (The behind-the-scenes disaster also meant that the sophomore season didn’t premiere until nearly two years after the end of the first.) Alexander ultimately was let go and Eglee helmed the third season. Perhaps as a result of the insanity, Gaiman moved his overall deal from Fremantle to Amazon during production of the series, which had landed at Starz after HBO and Tom Hanks’ company developed and passed on the show in 2011.
“Anansi Boys began around 1996, from a conversation I had with Lenny Henry about writing a story that was diverse and part of the culture that we both loved,” Gaiman said in a statement Wednesday. “Anansi Boys as a TV series has been a long time coming — I first started working with Endor and Red on making it over a decade ago. We needed Amazon Prime to come on board and embrace our vision, we needed a lead director with the craft and vision of Hanelle Culpepper, we needed the creative and technical wizardry of Douglas Mackinnon (who worked out how we could push the bounds of the possible to shoot a story set all over the world in a huge studio outside Edinburgh), and we needed the rest of the amazing talents that nobody knows about yet. We are trying to make a new kind of show with Anansi Boys, and to break ground with it to make something that celebrates and rejoices in diversity both in front of and behind the camera. I’m so thrilled it’s happening and that people will be meeting Mr. Nancy, Charlie and Spider, the Bird Woman and the rest of them.”
In addition to Good Omens, Gaiman is also exec producing an adaptation of his beloved comic Sandman for Netflix and producers Warner Bros. TV with Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman) set as showrunner. The series, starring Tom Sturridge and Gwendoline Christie, was previously set up as a feature at New Line and landed at Netflix in 2019, where it was poised to become the most expensive series DC Entertainment had ever done. (That honor now belongs to Greg Berlanti’s HBO Max take on Green Lantern.) Efforts to bring Sandman to the screen date back to the 1990s. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was set to star and direct, exited in 2013 amid creative differences with New Line and ownership issues.
“I’m thrilled that we get to take the story of Anansi Boys from page to screen with the creative powers of Neil and Lenny, as well as an extraordinary group of other writers, directors, and a cast and crew of so many diverse perspectives alongside us,” Mackinnon said. “We’ll be shooting in brand new studios in Scotland where we’ll have the most cutting-edge CGI technology in the world to make all the magic and wonder of Anansi Boys come to life.”
A premiere time frame has not been determined.
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