Asimov’s “Foundation” Finally Moving Forward?

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.” — Hari Seldon, Foundation

It looks as though Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” may finally be on its way to the small screen.

Asimov’s original concept was serialized in Astounding Magazine back in 1942 through 1950. He then fleshed out his time- and galaxy-spanning narrative into a series of books: the “Foundation Trilogy” (Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953)), followed much later by two sequels (Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986)) and two prequels (Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993)). The original trilogy won the one-time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966. Since Asimov’s passing in 1992, other authors have added to the corpus of “Foundation” stories, with blessings of the Asimov estate but varying commercial and critical success.

Instead of attempting to summarize the, er, foundational framework for Asimov’s novels, I’ll let Wikipedia do it:

“The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. Seldon foresees the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting 30,000 years before a second great empire arises. Seldon’s calculations also show there is a way to limit this interregnum to just one thousand years. To ensure the more favorable outcome and reduce human misery during the intervening period, Seldon creates the Foundation – a group of talented artisans and engineers positioned at the twinned extreme ends of the galaxy – to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for the accelerated resurgence of this new galactic empire.”

Itself influenced by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Foundation series is generally acknowledged as influencing other science-fiction ranging from Star Wars to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as noted individuals including Elon Musk and Newt Gingrich. I remember reading the trilogy and Prelude a couple decades or so ago and generally enjoying them. Of course, I didn’t understand it all. As is typical for Asimov’s writing, they are much more cerebral than action-oriented. For what it’s worth, I always thought the term “psychohistory” was a bit clunky and imprecise. On the other hand, I suppose it does sound like something a sci-fi author might come up with in the 1940s/50s. 🙂

Fox, Warner Bros., and Sony have all attempted at one time or another to get a Foundation feature film off the ground with various big names attached, but they all failed. HBO teamed with Jonathan Nolan to get a series underway not long ago, but they never even got an order for a script. Last June, though, Deadline announced that Skydance Television (Altered Carbon, Jack Ryan) was trying to close a deal with the Asimov estate for them — along with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Blade) and Josh Friedman (“The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, War of the Worlds) — to adapt Foundation into a TV series. Then, just a few days ago, Deadline gave an update. Skydance has concluded their deal with the Asimov estate, with Goyer and Friedman serving as showrunners and sharing executive producer credits with Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

Just as surprising (to me, anyway) was the fact that it was Apple who has ordered the straight-to-series development project. But, then, I’m not really up on what Apple has been doing in this area. As per Deadline,

“The project shows a different level of ambition for Apple’s worldwide video programming team led by Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. In November, they set their first scripted series, a morning show drama executive produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, with a two-season, straight-to-series order. Apple also has given straight-to-series orders to Amazing Stories, a re-imagining of the anthology from Steven Spielberg, a Ronald D. Moore space drama, a Damien Chazelle series, a comedy starring Kristin Wiig, world-building drama See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence, as well as an M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller.”

That all sounds pretty ambitious to me, especially for a fledgling outfit! According to Joseph Keller at iMore:

“The company has said nothing about how these new shows will be distributed, when they’ll premiere, or how much it will cost to watch them.”

Reports are that Apple will be keeping its shows “family-friendly”, too, and that suits me just fine.

For various reasons, many have deemed the Foundation series to be un-adaptable for the screen, and they may be right. However, I am intrigued by the idea — as long as Goyer et al. respect the source material fairly closely, of course — and I hope we are pleasantly surprised by the result. (Obviously, a small-screen series sounds like a much more realistic undertaking for something of such scope, even to adapt just one of the books.) I’m rootin’ for ya, guys! But, just so you know, I am not gonna buy an Apple TV….

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