The Phantom is getting another shot at life, this time on the Sci-Fi Channel (although it'll be known as SyFy by the time the series airs.) RHI Entertainment is adapting superhero from the pages of the Sunday comics, along with Riverworld (based on the series by Philip Jose Farmer) and a new adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. All of the projects will be done as four-hour movies on the network.
"The four-hour format allows us to command large dollars around the world for our shows that puts about ($4 million-$6 million) of production on the screen per hour," said Robert Halmi Jr., president and CEO of RHI entertainment. "It gives the network a chance to try a concept with the same production values, if not better, than you'd get for a series."
Additionally, Riverworld and The Phantom will serve as backdoor pilots to new series, in a model similar to what the network did with Battlestar Galactica.
That the character of the Phantom has been adapted before (such as in the unsuccessful Billy Zane The Phantom) doesn't deter the studio, and in fact, they see it as a good reason to try to re-adapt the character. "That there hasn't been a successful Phantom leaves the door wide open for us, since nobody has made it their own yet," Halmi said.
Riverworld is about a photojournalist transported to a mysterious world occupied by everyone who has ever lived on Earth. The challenge behind the series will be using the historical characters in the series with a modern protagonist, but without making things obvious or comedic. Characters in the story's world will be portrayed by actors in their 20s, so somebody like Napoleon wouldn't be "a balding man with his hand in his coat." "Part of the fun of this is the reveal of who each character is," says MarkStern, executive VP of original programming for SciFi Channel.
Both Riverworld and The Phantom will air sometime in 2010.
In addition, the new Alice in Wonderland series will be done with a more modern twist. "We thought Alice was the perfectly underlying material to tell a classic story with a modern twist," Halmi said. "We'll have new incredible worlds and a more grown-up feel." Meanwhile, Stern said "Lewis Carroll was more concerned about politics and satire then telling a mythological story. You're not really engaged with Alice in a proactive and emotionally fulfilling way."
Alice in Wonderland will aid in winter of 2009.