Break out your Best of Queen cassettes. A TV adaptation of Good Omens is finally actually happening, but it had a hell of a time getting here.
Earlier today, the announcement was officially made that the novel Good Omens – a 30 year old cult classic co-written by the now-iconic genre-and-medium-crossing storyteller Neil Gaiman and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, best known for his hilarious Discworld universe — is being adapted for television in a collaboration between BBC Studios and Amazon Prime. The production will be a six-part limited series, presumably planned to tell the entire story of the book in one neat package, and will air in 2018. Gaiman himself has written all six scripts and will also serve as showrunner. It’s happening, you guys. It’s actually happening.
This genuinely might be the most hotly anticipated moment in literary nerd culture for a good long while. Good Omens is a sweet and comedic take on the Apocalypse, in which an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley (yes, the Supernatural character is named after him — creator Eric Kripke is a Gaiman mega-fan, and once pitched a Sandman TV show) attempt to prevent Armageddon, as they’re quite keen on Earth and humanity remaining exactly as they are. Throw in a Bentley, a reluctant psychic, a Witch-finder, the four Bikers of the Apocalypse, and four children, one of whom is an Antichrist, and you get — just to state a few objective facts — the cutest, funniest, nicest, cleverest, most feel-good novel about free will to ever be written.
Good Omens is so desperately beloved by readers that Gaiman has frequently told stories about signing copies that were obviously dropped in the bath, or signing new copies for readers who gave their old ones to friends and never got them back, or copies that were just a bunch of pages in a zip-lock bag. The series will see the book’s setting remain in the present day, updating it from the late 1980s to now, and while that may raise concerns of charming or even crucial elements being lost in translation, the fact that Gaiman’s fingers are gripped so tightly and protectively around every aspect of this project – the book that was his novelistic debut — should be a safe indication that the soul of the story isn’t going anywhere.
The history of this particular adaptation is a long and complicated one. After the book’s publication in 1990, Pratchett and Gaiman turned down a lot of commercial offers, and sold the Good Omens film rights to their friend Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame and J.K. Rowling’s personal first choice to helm the Potter movies) for the alleged sum of one groat. This project, which had a completed script and was initially set to star Robin Williams and Johnny Depp as Aziraphale and Crowley respectively, was pursued by Gilliam for a decade or so, but got stuck in development hell, never finding the funding to begin initial production. As recently as 2014, Gilliam spoke about his ongoing pipe dream to adapt the book, mentioning the possibility of — what do you know — a six-part miniseries. It’s unknown whether Gilliam will have any attachment at all to Gaiman’s Amazon/BBC series, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that he may later be announced as director.
Once the idea of a Hollywood movie was pretty much off the table, more chatter about a miniseries — frankly, a preferred method of storytelling for a lot of die-hard fans — circulated. In the years that followed, Gaiman and Pratchett teased fans with hints that Conversations were Happening whenever they met up, and in 2011 a four-part TV series was announced under another Python alum Terry Jones. This version, clearly approved of by the authors, also never got out of the gate. In 2012, Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna announced the creation of Narritiva, a production company dedicated to adapting her father’s works, and listed a TV movie of Good Omens as one of the first priorities (indeed, both Narritiva and Gaiman’s personal production company, The Blank Corporation, were namedropped in today’s announcement) and in 2014, a Good Omens BBC radio drama adaptation was announced, and subsequently produced, with cameos from Pratchett and Gaiman.
Today’s news might be thrilling and brand-new to a host of fans, but if you follow Gaiman’s public appearances and personal internet presence, you’ll know that this specific iteration of Good Omens was already well on its way — it was announced at a memorial for Pratchett in April 2016, and Gaiman spent the year completing scripts for the six episodes, mentioning as recently as three weeks ago that the series would be made by the BBC later this year.
The new pieces of the puzzle — the news announced today — are the involvement of Amazon Studios and distribution on Amazon Prime rather than through the expected medium of the tried and tested traditional BBC miniseries television event, and the reveal of Gaiman as showrunner, a career first for the author, who is credited as an executive producer and script writer on several other projects (including, of course, the upcoming Bryan Fuller-helmed American Gods, premiering on Starz later this year) but who has never before been captain of the filmic ship on any of the adaptations of his work.
Gaiman’s position as showrunner is perhaps more surprising than it has any right to be, as his possessiveness over the work surely stems from wanting to do right by his old friend. In the months before Pratchett passed away in 2015 after battling early-onset Alzheimer’s, Gaiman was asked whether he’d consider working on Good Omens alone — an offer he initially refused. “Terry and I had a deal that we would only work on Good Omens things together,” he explained at Pratchett’s memorial. “Everything that was ever written – bookmarks and tiny little things – we would always collaborate, everything was a collaboration. So, obviously, no.”
That’s a fair call, and it would have been, to fans, an understandable and compassionate laying to rest of the idea of ever seeing more Good Omens content. However, it was Pratchett himself who convinced Gaiman to take the reins, in what Gaiman calls ‘sort of a last request.’ “At that point, I think I said, ‘You bastard, yes,'” he told the crowd, and later recounted Pratchett’s words on the matter — “I would very much like this to happen, and I know, Neil, that you’re very very busy, but no one else could ever do it with the passion that we share for the old girl. I wish I could be more involved and I will help in any way I can.” How could Gaiman let anyone else be in charge of such a thing?
So, yes, it’s happening, and given Pratchett’s legacy and Gaiman’s showrunner position, it’s likely to be the greatest book-to-screen adaptation ever made – or at least, one that no-one can ever claim veered from the creators’ intent. Now, of course, will come the long-awaited casting reveal. The casting of American Gods was exciting, sure, but this one is next level. Given the amount of false starts over the years, fans have been preparing for ages to see who will portray the beloved characters on screen, and many are ride-or-die about their Crowley and Aziraphale headcanons. If you google “Good Omens fan casting” you’ll get half a million results, dating back to the earliest days of the internet – it’s been a touchstone fantasy for a lot of people for a very long time. (I personally always plumped hard for Colin Morgan as Newt Pulsifer, and shrieked when he was indeed given the role in the radio drama.)
In today’s press release, Gaiman had this to say about his new venture: “Almost 30 years ago Terry Pratchett and I wrote the funniest novel we could about the end of the world, populated with angels and demons, not to mention an 11 year-old Antichrist, witch-finders and the four horsepeople of the Apocalypse. It became many people’s favorite book. Three decades later, it’s going to make it to the screen. I can’t think of anyone we’d rather make it with than BBC Studios, and I just wish Sir Terry was alive to see it.”
Until then, enjoy this picture of Pratchett and Gaiman doing their best Aziraphale and Crowley impressions in Highgate cemetary, the offical author photograph from the first hardcover edition of Good Omens. And have a nice doomsday.