EXCLUSIVE: In a further foray into scripted programming, FremantleMedia is teaming with the UK’s Corona Pictures for a drama/adventure series project based on best-selling author Wilbur Smith’s Birds Of Prey. Layer Cake scribe JJ Connolly has been set to pen the adaptation of the first three novels in Smith’s Courtney Family Adventures series that begins with Birds Of Prey and includes Monsoon and Blue Horizon. All told, Smith’s 34 books have sold over 120 million copies worldwide. The swashbuckling Courtney novels are set against a backdrop of the uncharted Africa of the 17th century, which offers the promise of the adventure of a lifetime and tantalizing riches. The stories chronicle the lives of the eponymous family as they battle to secure the clan’s fortunes in a place where sea-faring empires, privateers, wild animals and settled African tribes and nations fight it out for control of the land and its treasures. The planned TV series will kick off in 1667 as the family lands in Africa, led by 17-year-old protagonist Hal.
Corona Pictures co-founders Rupert Jermyn and Richard Johns (Shadow Of The Vampire, The Liability) are producing the series which is being co-developed by FremantleMedia. The partners are eyeing an initial 13-episode season and have begun discussions with UK, U.S. and European broadcasters. They will present the project further at Mip-TV next month. Jermyn and Johns say the books are the “epic of a family making its way in the world at a time when there was a huge land grab.” The plan is to shoot in South Africa and perhaps access the lucrative UK TV tax credit — the books have some locations in England and the talent will be largely sourced from the UK.
Connolly tells me he had his eye on getting involved in TV for a while, but “the things that came my way, I didn’t really fancy. This came along and was ideal. It gets me out of a comfort zone. I’ve done British gangsters to death.” He calls Smith’s stories “big and expansive — his themes are universal and timeless.” Smith has likewise endorsed Connolly, calling him “an inspired choice” to help “satisfy my fans who have been clamoring to see the Courtney saga dramatized for many years.”