Neil Gaiman’s beloved Vertigo comic Sandman is finally coming to the screen.
More than three years after New Line’s failed attempt to turn the graphic novel into a feature film, Netflix has signed what sources describe as a massive financial deal with Warner Bros. Television to adapt the best-seller into a live-action TV series. Sources familiar with the pact note it is the most expensive TV series that DC Entertainment has ever done. The drama has officially been picked up with an 11-episode order.
Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, ABC’s The Catch, Grey’s Anatomy) is set to write and serve as showrunner on the straight-to-series drama. Gaiman, who created the ongoing monthly comic, will executive produce alongside David Goyer. Gaiman and Goyer were both attached to New Line’s most recent attempts to adapt Sandman for the big screen. Gaiman, Goyer and Heinberg will co-write the premiere.
“We’re thrilled to partner with the brilliant team that is Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg to finally bring Neil’s iconic comic book series, The Sandman, to life onscreen,” said Channing Dungey, vp originals at Netflix. “From its rich characters and storylines to its intricately built-out worlds, we’re excited to create an epic original series that dives deep into this multi-layered universe beloved by fans around the world.”
The Netflix take represents the first Sandman TV series after numerous efforts to adapt Gaiman’s horror, fantasy and mythology tale about Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, and the Endless, the powerful group of siblings that includes Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium (as well as Dream).
Attempts to turn Sandman into a feature film franchise started in the 1990s with Warner Bros. — the parent company of Vertigo, the former imprint of DC Comics. The project went through multiple incarnations and writers in the 1990s and early 2000s and eventually toiled away in development purgatory. Gaiman, whose work has been adapted for TV with Starz’s American Gods and Amazon’s Good Omens, announced in late 2013 that he was teaming with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for a feature film that wound up being set up at Warner Bros.-owned New Line. Gordon-Levitt was set to star and direct before bailing on the film following creative differences with the studio in March 2016. Eric Heisserer, the last screenwriter attached to New Line’s Sandman, said in November 2016 that he was no longer involved.
“I … came to the conclusion that the best version of this property exists as an HBO series or limited series, not as a feature film, not even as a trilogy,” Heisserer told iO9 then. “The structure of the feature film really doesn’t mesh with this. So I went back and said here’s the work that I’ve done. This isn’t where it should be. It needs to go to TV.”
Sources say Warners, which controls the IP, took the Sandman TV pitch to multiple outlets, including corporate sibling HBO. The premium cable network did not make a play for the series, given the massive price tag attached (and likely number of other big world shows in the works), and Netflix snapped it up as the streamer continues to make an active play for massive IP that could be turned into subscriber-friendly franchises a la Amazon’s Lord of the Rings and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Since parting ways with Marvel, Netflix has aggressively pursued big-name IP — like Magic: The Gathering, The Chronicles of Narnia and the works of Roald Dahl — as the streamer courts new subscribers with exclusive new takes on beloved franchises.
The Sandman deal will provide a financial windfall to Warners, which is in final negotiations for a new film and TV pact with J.J. Abrams that could be worth north of $500 million. Sources note that the studio opted to sell it to a third party in a bid to bring additional revenue to the company rather than placing it at its forthcoming streaming service. The studio will next look to re-sign prolific comedy producer Chuck Lorre as the Big Bang Theory co-creator’s current deal expires in 2020.
Heinberg is repped by Hansen Jacobson; Goyer, whose TV credits include Syfy’s Krypton and NBC’s Constantine (both based on DC characters), is with WME and Bloom Hergott; and Gaiman is repped by CAA.