Guillermo del Toro is bringing his vampire novel trilogy The Strain to television as a drama series, which will be run by former Lost co-showrunner Carlton Cuse. In a very competitive situation with multiple cable networks offering major commitments, FX has landed the project, ordering a pilot that will be co-written, directed and executive produced by del Toro. Co-writing the pilot script is Chuck Hogan (Prince Of Thieves), who also co-authored the books with del Toro. Lost alum Cuse will help develop the series and serve as executive producer/showrunner. Like Lost, The Strain is envisioned as having a limited run. Del Toro tells Deadline he believes the books have enough juice to fill three to five seasons of series, and that he would like to helm as many episodes as his feature schedule allows. Del Toro, Cuse and Hogan exec produce with del Toro’s long-time manager/producing partner Gary Ungar.
In the opening book of the series, the 2009 The Strain, a Boeing 777 lands at JFK with no communication or signs of life. Eph Goodweather, who investigates biological threats for the CDC, is called in and discovers all the passengers dead, and signs that a strange being had been aboard the vessel. Soon, he teams with ex-professor and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian and they assemble a ragtag group that represents mankind’s only hope when a swarm of vampires quickly turn civilization into a buffet spread. Fittingly for male-driven FX, unlike the traditional, romanticized portrayals of vampires as tuxedo-clad studs, The Strain‘s bloodsuckers have no seductive powers — they are parasites, husks of their former human form with stingers that drain blood for nourishment, while spreading capillary worms that convert victims into more vampires under the control of The Master.
This marks the first time FX has committed to a drama pilot off a pitch. It also makes it a full circle for The Strain, which del Toro originally conceived as a TV series. When he couldn’t sell it, then-Endeavor agent Richard Abate, now at 3 Arts, suggested del Toro turned the idea into a book and made the introduction to Hogan. When the first book was published, the networks and studios came knocking. “We started receiving offers for movies and TV rights after the publication of the first book but we didn’t want do anything because we didn’t want that train of thought to influence the way we were writing the books,” del Toro told Deadline.
Not surprisingly given the origins of the project, del Toro said he and Hogan, who are writing a different book trilogy together, decided early on that the best way to tell the trilogy’s long story on screen was on TV. “Once the third book was published, we went back to every cable network that expressed interest, and we pitched the series,” del Toro said. “FX made the most sense, based on the level of commitment, passion and understanding of the concept of the book. They got behind the idea of making this a close-ended series; we wanted to follow the books closely and so it couldn’t be open-ended, but rather three to five seasons max.”
Del Toro feels that the initial book can cover a season, and same with the 2010 follow-up The Fall. The Night Eternal, which concluded the series, can be broken up into two seasons, he said. There are also subplots that didn’t make the book, and he’s leaving room for creative detours that develop in the evolution of the series.
Del Toro said he and Hogan will start writing the script at year’s end and prep a pilot that will shoot in September, after the director’s big summer film Pacific Rim opens in July. Like it did with American Horror Story, FX is greenlighting the pilot with additional scripts behind it, so the project can go into production on Season 1 shortly after the pilot is completed. Cuse, who also executive produces A&E’s Psycho prequel series Bates Motel, now in pre-production on a 10-episode order, is expected to run both shows concurrently. “Carlton Cuse will be a huge help in carrying this to the finish line,” he said. “He’s very well established, and a strong sounding board and producer.” As for his plan to “direct as many episodes as I can through the life of the series,” del Toro notes that time passes between movies, sometimes as long as four years. “I’d have loved to have had a series to escape to and have fun with. We have that with the world Chuck and I created, one that Carlton and I will create for TV.”
The Strain, which marks del Toro’s first greenlighted U.S. series project, was always intended for cable. “One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in cable is I love the long character arcs in these shows, and how they are slightly malleable and the way that secondary characters in the books can become more important in series,” he said. Del Toro, a pop culture junkie, considers the recent past and present pay and basic cable TV series to be a golden age. He cited everything from Luther to Sons Of Anarchy, Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Walking Dead, Deadwood, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Justified as influences. “Creatively it is the richest field to mine a long arc of character, and I follow about 13 of these series,” del Toro said. “Not only that, but I cast much of my movie, Pacific Rim, from it.” That film stars Elba, from The Wire and Luther, Charlie Hunnam, who plays the lead in FX’s Sons Of Anarchy, as well as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Charlie Day.
They are working out Hogan’s credit and how involved he will be with the series. In addition to collaborating with del Toro on another novel project, he is currently writing a crime thriller script with fellow bestselling author Don Winslow, whose Savages was just turned into the Oliver Stone-directed film. Shane Salerno is producing.
In addition to three best-selling Harper Collins books and now a TV show, The Strain also has spawned a Dark Horse comic series. Del Toro is repped by WME, Hirsch Wallerstein and Ungar. Hogan, who also wrote the novel Prince Of Thieves that Ben Affleck turned into The Town, is with 3 Arts and UTA. Cuse is repped by WME and Del Shaw.