Acclaimed screenwriter and director John Ridley has finally opened up about the secret Marvel TV project he had been developing for ABC, only for the network to unexpectedly scrap it before it ever made it to air.
Ridley’s Ambitious Vision for a Grounded MCU Show
According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ridley had pitched ABC back in 2018 on an idea for a TV series based around Marvel’s cosmic group of heroes The Eternals. Ridley, known for his complex social commentary in projects like 12 Years a Slave, saw the potential to tell a grounded, more mature story within the Marvel universe:
“I really wanted to do something that was grounded, something that would have been contemporary in terms of its tone. I really wanted to focus more on issues of identity, individuality, those types of questions.”
His vision was for a character-driven ensemble drama, focusing on the themes of what it means to be human and familial relationships, while still delivering on the superhero action that MCU fans expect.
Ridley secured a deal with both Marvel Studios and ABC Studios to develop the show. It entered early stages of pre-production in late 2018, starting to assemble a writers room and meeting with VFX teams on realizing The Eternals’ cosmic powers on a TV budget. Ridley confirmed Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was closely involved:
“The great thing with Kevin was walking me through the specificities of the characters… Who The Eternals were, their certain powers and relationships between the Eternals.”
Development Stalls as Questions Mounted on Tone and Scale
However, development apparently started to stall in early 2019 over questions of exactly what form Ridley’s grounded character drama would take and how it would fit alongside ABC’s lighter Marvel shows.
“I think the great thing at that point was ABC saying ‘We really need to figure things out in terms of exactly what this is going to look like.’ I don’t think that’s strange when you’re talking about a show that, yes there were superhero elements but at the same time I did keep saying it’s got to feel grounded, feel contemporary.”
With a sprawling cast of 10 Eternals characters to introduce on top of grounded, mature themes, how could the show’s scale and tone possibly work on a broadcast network budget and schedule?
Ridley suggests the nature of broadcast TV may have been too limiting for the ambitious concept he envisioned:
“You’re also talking about once you start going down the road of series television, you’re talking about needing to deliver a certain number of episodes in a certain window. I feel like that journalists as a whole is not well suited to broadcast television.”
Marvel Pulls Plug, Leaving Ridley’s Vision Unrealized
It seems questions on whether Ridley’s grounded vision aligned with making the show on ABC ultimately led Marvel and ABC Studios to get cold feet and abruptly pull the plug on the project sometime in mid-2019:
“When all those questions started to come up, I think at that point for Marvel they sort of decided ‘You know what? We see a little too much peril on this’… At that point they pulled the plug.”
Ridley was clearly disappointed in how it played out after putting years of work into developing the show:
“I learned an awful lot during that process. I’m sorry that the version that I wrote didn’t go forward.”
But he still feels his version could have bridged Marvel’s theatrical spectacle and prestige TV storytelling in a way audiences hadn’t seen before.
Will Ridley’s Vision Still Influence the MCU’s Eternals?
With The Eternals having recently made their MCU debut in 2021’s Eternals theatrical film, also directed by an acclaimed auteur in Chloé Zhao, the question arises of whether Ridley’s grounded TV take played any influence on how the characters were ultimately portrayed:
“I would like to think that some of what we were trying to do influenced what Chloé Zhao was doing with that spectacular cast.”
Indeed, there were shades of a more grounded tone and emphasis on identity in Zhao’s film, even if it still adhered to an epic superhero storyline.
But Ridley made it clear his specific vision for a mature ensemble character study is likely still waiting in the wings, should Marvel and/or a streaming service want to take another crack at it:
“I mean look, I still think it’s a great idea. And definitely in success, we’ve seen that Marvel and Disney+ are willing to take chances.”
With Marvel expanding its TV universe more ambitiously than ever across Disney+, Hulu and beyond, perhaps there’s still hope Ridley’s grounded take on The Eternals can some day reach audiences, whether as a reboot of his ABC concept or some spiritual successor.
For now, Ridley’s reveal of this long-rumored scrapped project shines an intriguing light on a road not taken for the MCU – one grounded in complex themes of identity and humanity amongst superhuman characters. The Eternals may have finally made it to screens, but the version developed by one of Hollywood’s most thought-provoking writers continues to lurk intriguingly in the shadows.
Potential Future Directions
- With Moon Knight and other series expanding the boundaries of Marvel storytelling on Disney+, it seems possible Ridley’s vision could be revisited. But would it need a big budget only a theatrical film could provide?
- Which elements of Ridley’s original idea could carry over to a reimagined Eternals streaming series under Marvel Studios? Should any established MCU characters make cameos?
- Now that ideas like a grounded, more mature MCU take have entered the mainstream, perhaps Ridley’s scrapped vision was simply ahead of its time in 2018. Could it find an audience today?
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