EXCLUSIVE: Disney+ has abruptly pulled the plug on one of the high-profile original series in the works at the streaming service, Book of Enchantment, an adaptation of the Villains book series by Serena Valentino featuring some of Disney’s most popular villains.
I hear the decision was largely creative, related to show’s tone and direction. It came down yesterday when the project was shut down 13 weeks into a writers room where a team had been working on scripts.
Book of Enchantment had been in the works at Disney+ for almost a year. While it had not been formally greenlighted, budget conversations had been progressing, producers had scouted locations, expensive pay-or-play staffing deals had been made, and a May 2020 production start in the UK had been eyed.
The Book of Enchantment adaptation appeared tailor-made for Disney’s upcoming family-oriented direct-to-consumer platform, slated for a November 12 debut. Envisioned as an epic universe that weaves classic Disney tales told in a new way, the project hailed from Michael Seitzman who wrote the pilot script and a bible and served as showrunner, ABC Signature Studios, and Seitzman and Christina Davis’ ABC Studios-based Maniac Productions.
Book of Enchantment likely faced more intense scrutiny than other Disney+ shows because of its IP involving characters that are very important to the Disney canon. I hear as backup scripts started to come in, executives at the streaming platform felt the series was going into a darker direction than anticipated.
Disney brass have been open about the brand identity of Disney+ as family-oriented service, something all of its programming has to conform with. In the spring, Disney+’s High Fidelity series reboot starring Zoë Kravitz moved to Hulu because the project had evolved creatively into more adult subject matter. Disney+’s upcoming High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, switched showrunners and made creative changes earlier this year in part because the original showrunner was looking to tackle more adult themes.
With Book of Enchantment, I hear an effort was made for a mid-stream creative direction shift, trying to bring back some levity in tone while keeping the project going and the writers room open. As part of the efforts to find a path forward, producer Jason Reed was brought in after July 4 to help out. I hear that when the latest script came in this week and its tone was still darker than Disney+ executives wanted it to be, a decision was made to put an end of the project in this incarnation.
The decision was accepted by ABC Studios/ABC Signature, where Seitzman is among of the top showrunners on the talent roster. Out of respect to the seasoned creator-producer on part of both ABC Studios and Disney+, they agreed not to compromise further his vision and push the project in a direction where its creative team was not comfortable going.
Also factoring into the decision was the series’ cost. I hear the initial budget proposal from the producers came in very high but, after concessions, the streamer, the studio and the producing team reached a compromise. (The budget was consequently trimmed further as part of a cost-cutting measure that I hear impacted a number of Disney+ shows.) Still, because of its nature and scope, Book of Enchantment was going to be a very expensive series, with its Season 1 budget pushing nine figures, so that, paired with the uncertainty over its tone and creative direction, likely sealed its fate. I hear more than $4 million had already been spent on the series so far.
Additionally, while development of Book of Enchantment was going on, Disney-ABC’s production operations, including ABC Studios, underwent a string of leadership changes as a result of Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox assets.
While the current Book of Enchantment series incarnation will not go forward, ABC Studios continues to own the IP, and I hear Disney+ remains interested in the property so a new take may be developed down the road.
Disney has been actively exploiting its gallery of classic villains in features (the Maleficent franchise) and in TV (the Descendants TV movie franchise).
Valentino’s book series launched in 2009 with Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen. Six books have been published so far with the latest, The Odd Sisters: A Villains Novel, coming out last month.
Seitzman and Maniac will now focus on their other projects at ABC Studios/ABC Signature, including an innovative two-series drama project in the works at Hulu based on two John Grisham novels, 1995’s The Rainmaker and 2015’s Rogue Lawyer. It is envisioned as the first chapter in a larger franchise, a multi-series project tentatively titled The Grisham Universe.
Disney+ is expected to tout its upcoming lineup at its D23 Expo presentation tomorrow. It includes Marvel and Star Wars shows as well as High School Musical: The Musical and a Love, Simon reimagining.