One of the early and impressive trends this pilot season is time travel: Multiple television networks have picked up pilots (both sitcoms and dramas) with characters who can jump through time, with varying results and consequences. The latest is an adaptation (picked up by ABC) of Karl Alexander’s 1979 novel Time After Time, helmed by Scream screenwriter and Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson, about H.G. Wells tracking Jack the Ripper through time.
Alexander’s novel, literary with a decidedly genre hook, imagines a world in which H.G. Wells not only wrote The Time Machine, but actually invented one as well. Unfortunately, his pride and naïveté get the better of him:
When Wells showed it off to his famous friends—such as Henry James, Ford Madox Ford and other literary lights of 1893 London, he never suspected that another guest, his college friend, surgeon Leslie John Stephenson, was in truth the infamous Jack the Ripper. When Scotland Yard detectives showed up at Wells’s house to inquire about Stevenson, Jack took the machine and fled to the future—1979 San Francisco. When the time machine, as designed, returned to its point of origin, Wells followed the Ripper to the future. Wells felt obligated to bring him back to justice. Once in San Francisco, Wells realized that he also must save that city… and a particular lovely young woman… from a new reign of terror at the hands of the depraved, grisly Jack.
The book was adapted into a 1979 movie starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. According to Variety, Williamson’s pilot uses the novel as a starting point, chronicling the adventures of Wells and his machine. Will Jack still be his Moriarty? Will Wells encounter other famous figures and/or historical events? How much will the show lean into its alt-history premise? Will Wells and his contemporaries be almost unbelievably self-aware? There’s a lot of possibility here. I’m a big fan of Williamson’s past TV series and movies, so I’ll be curious to see what he does with adapting a well-known novel.
And like I said, this is just one of several time travel projects that we may see on television next season. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke has teamed up with The Shield creator Shawn Ryan for Time (bought by NBC), an action-adventure drama described as “Back to the Future meets Mission: Impossible.” It pits “an unlikely trio” (where have we heard that one before) against a master criminal trying to alter the course of history. Meanwhile, Fox has given a put pilot commitment to a sitcom from The LEGO Movie‘s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, about three friends whose ability to time travel leads to past events complicating their present lives in 2016.