Friday, August 23, 2013

Everything's Coming Up OZ

Why at this particular moment in time everybody wants to do Wizard of Oz projects (or rip-offs), I have no idea. Whatever the reason, it's happening. Expect to see a lot of green in your future.

Okay, so first there were the L. Frank Baum books, with "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" published in 1900. Numerous stage versions, musical and not, trailed along after, before the boffo 1939 movie with Judy Garland singing about going "Over the Rainbow" and enough repeats on television to secure images of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion in the minds of generations of children. The Wiz, a more urban, contemporary musical version of the story, showed up on Broadway in 1974, followed by a fairly lame movie version of the show starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. After that came a nasty piece of work, a 1985 Disney movie called Return to Oz, and then "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," a fresh take on the material from the Witch's point of view by author Gregory Maguire, which spawned a Broadway musical of its own, the insanely popular Wicked. "Over the Rainbow" gave way to "Ease on Down the Road" which gave it up for "Defying Gravity" in the 21st century.

But that was only the tip of the Emerald City iceberg. Zooey Deschanel and Alan Cumming headlined a 2007 TV miniseries on the SyFy Channel called Tin Man that turned Dorothy in DG, a small-town waitress, and Oz into a scary place called the O.Z., or Outer Zone. In case you've already forgotten, James Franco tried the Wizard's hat on for size in Oz the Great and Powerful earlier this year.

If you follow ABC's Once Upon a Time closely, you may know that its creators fully expect to bring in a spare Wizard or Wicked Witch at some point, what with showing Flying Monkeys in the storybook that started their show and an emerald land somewhere in the Mad Hatter's hat.

As OUAT showrunners Horowitz and Kitsis debate when to punch their ticket for the Yellow Brick Road, CBS, NBC and SyFy (again!) are launching Oz projects of their own, with various odd riffs on Emerald City and its denizens.

NBC has plans for a drama called Emerald City, which Deadline describes as "a dark reimagining of the classic tale of Oz in the vein of Game Of Thrones, drawing upon stories from Baum’s original 14 books."

There's more specific info out there on SyFy's Warriors of Oz, a post-apocalyptic saga with no Dorothy, but instead a male warrior type person who travels from current Earth to the future, where he has to work with three brawny battlers called Heartless, Brainless and Coward. Gee, I wonder who those guys are supposed to be? Heartless, Brainless and Coward will be helping Our Hero save the world from an evil Wizard. Even the villain isn't allowed to be female in this one. Yikes.

Dorothy, from CBS, at least has the girl back in the center of the action, but it's being described as a medical drama. Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman, the executive producers of Elementary, the modern New York version of Sherlock Holmes, are behind this odd idea, where Dorothy is apparently going to start work at (or be admitted to) some sort of Green Hospital where she runs into, oh, I don't know, a cardiologist, a brain surgeon, and an Old Lion of a hospital administrator who is terribly afraid of malpractice suits? Or maybe they're all mental patients who think they're in Oz and the Wicked Witch is the Nurse Ratched of the piece? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

But that should certainly represent enough Oz projects for even the most devoted Wizard fan.


  1. Good lord. Thanks, as always, for the gathering of info that I won't find all in one place elsewhere; but this is nuts. We may figure that the 3 series ideas ("Dorothy" especially?) will quickly fade. And I suppose I can't really object on puristic grounds; Baum himself, when he had the chance to adapt the "Wizard" for the stage, made it almost unrecognizable, with Imogene the cow rather than Toto the dog, plus a king and his consort Trixie.

    But still. There are 42 canonical Oz books, of which Baum wrote 14.* Why can't someone, in the midst of all this wave of new versions, have the bright idea of dramatizing one of those ready-made stories? Just for a change?

    (*Yes, I've read them all and have them on my shelf. I was once a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club and attended two of their national conventions. I even got in touch with the club cartographer, who had the challenge of reconciling the inconsistent geography in all those books. )

  2. I admit I have read NONE of the Oz books. I just never went there. And while the movie Wizard of Oz was a staple of my childhood (they aired it every Easter, I think?) I don't think I fell under its spell as much as other kids of my generation. I did like the Scarecrow, but not Dorothy herself so much. Having said that, it still annoys me no end when these Wizard spin-offs (or rip-offs or whatever) get rid of the girl and put a guy front and center instead of Dorothy. Cause what we need is ONE MORE coming of age story for a boy or warrior's journey for an embittered-yet-heroic man who needs to learn to trust some other ragtag band of warrior men so they can turn back evil together. Seven Samurai/Magnificent 7/Dirty Dozen/you name it...

  3. Well, to be (grudgingly) fair, there IS a prehistory of Oz, told in segments in various books of the series, telling how the wizard came to Oz in his balloon, and what happened when he got there. And the recent movie with James Franco used some of that information -- but then, as far as I can tell, threw out the rest and made up its own idiocies (just as Return To Oz used bits of the second and third books of the series, but threw a new and dismal story around them).

    I had already read The Wizard of Oz before I was taken to see the movie (in the Loop, in one of its last big theatrical rereleases before it went to TV). I can't say I didn't enjoy it, but I kept being irritated by the changes (it was my first experience with the "why did they change that for the movie" phenomenon so maybe I can be forgiven for getting too worked up at the age of 6 or so). I couldn't figure out why they invented 20 minutes of stuff happening in Kansas before the story started (in the book the cyclone arrives on page 1), and why the action kept stopping so they could sing long unwanted songs, and why they changed silver shoes to ruby slippers. But the most unforgivable thing was, and is, that they MADE IT ALL BE A DREAM! Oz is not a dream! It's real! (Dorothy and her aunt and uncle go there to live in the 6th book.) So I'm not a huge fan of the movie either.