Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Long-promised news on the TV Show

by Daniel Abraham

Sometimes you start something really big and complicated – like entering a whole new kind of business for instance – and you really really hope that things are going to go well? Yeah, so about that . . .

A few months ago, it was announced that SyFy, Sean Daniel Company, and Alcon Entertainment had made a deal to make The Expanse into a TV show. Ten episodes, straight to series (which means we wouldn’t be making a pilot episode and then hoping that it got picked up – the deal was to just march straight ahead), with the two of us attached as producers which we figured meant doing pretty much anything we could to help support Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who wrote the script for the first episode and agreed to spearhead the show. We came out to Los Angeles in . . . Jeez April, I think? We settled in to work, promising news as soon as we had it.

Detective Miller

Detective Miller

And then we went dark. It turns out releasing news about this kind of thing has an etiquette all its own. Even now, there are a bunch of things we know that we don’t get to tell you. But there is now some stuff to share.

First off, casting. This isn’t an easy project to cast. We were hoping to get as many folks to come play who both grokked genre and also knew how to do first-rate mainstream work. With that in mind, the role of Detective Miller is going to be played by Thomas Jane. Who, if you don’t know him, was designed in a government lab for the role. Seriously. He’d done The Punisher and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and Stephen King’s The Mist and Dreamcatcher. The man knows his genre chops. And he’s also been in Boogie Nights and Magnolia and The Thin Red Line. And Hung, where he got the three Golden Globe nominations. He can play tough, he can play vulnerable, and most of all he can play someone who’s well-bruised by the world. There was a while there I was afraid we weren’t going to get him, but ever since we have, I’ve been tracking down clips of his performances and feeling like I just found a Banksy print in my alley. It’s that level of cool.

And then there’s the director. I was unaware coming in of how important the first director is in a new show like this. Turns out, sort of critical, because whatever they do, however they approach the show, it pretty much sets the tone for everyone who comes after. We already had a fair amount of Breaking Bad in our project’s DNA because we were working with Sharon Hall who developed it back when she was at Sony.

So now we have more.

Terry McDonough did several episodes of Breaking Bad, including the one called Better Call Saul which was for my money one of the best hours of one of the best shows in my lifetime. I didn’t know it, but I’d actually seen his work the first time years ago in a show called Wire in the Blood that I still remember. He’s won the BAFTA and Royal Television Society (UK) Awards. When they were talking to him about our show, he was actually in my hometown working with the folks on Better Call Saul. If you’re looking for someone who can take the project and see complex characters in serious conflicts, this is kind of your guy. He’s not one of the people who looks down on SF. He directed Brian Cox in Doctor Who: An Adventure in Time and Space and just got a Hugo nomination for it. He directed Patrick Stewart in The Eleventh Hour. Between his instincts for nuance and humanity and his track record for making character-centered, award-winning television, he’s a brilliant fit.

And then there’s the look of the sets and costumes, which I don’t get to show you. I can say this: we’ve gotten to be involved with a lot of the preliminary design and concept work. This has involved a lot of really cool art and conversations with Richard Taylor and his team at WETA in New Zealand. The folks that did Lord of the Rings. Yeah, them. And the production designer who’s going to take the concept work and carry it through? Seth Reed, who just got an Emmy nomination for Cosmos. And did the art direction on Minority Report and From the Earth to the Moon.

Also, we’ve been spending most of our time in the writer’s room with an amazing group of screenwriters. In addition to Mark and Hawk – who, I would like to say for the record, have some of the best instincts for story I’ve seen anywhere – Naren Shankar has come on board to help out. That might not be a name you know, but he worked as one flavor or another of producer on CSI from 2002 to 2010 while that show was not only one of the best rated but possibly the most visually stylish things on network TV. He’s worked on Star Trek and Farscape and The Outer Limits. And we have other writers who’ve come from shows like Mad Men (seriously, one of our writers has Emmy nominations from Mad Men), and The Killing and Burn Notice.

The adjective people keep using to describe this project is “ambitious.” We’re trying to write something that’s genre but doesn’t rely on a knowledge of genre. We’re trying to film something that’s dark and dramatic and also funny and humane. Something that actually moves the line forward on science fiction television.

You do something like that, you really really hope it’ll go well.

It’s going well.

74 Responses »

  1. You can’t reach for the stars if you don’t go for big!

    Terry McDonough, huh? That will hopefully start the show with a bang.

  2. It reaches out!

    Seriously so excited for you guys and for this show! Everything about it sounds so cool. Congrats again!

  3. Thomas Jane looks like a homeless dad.

  4. …Arrested Development jokes aside, there’s so much great news in this post. There’s an incredible amount of talent amassing behind this show!

  5. I will hold all preliminary judgement until I see who is cast as Holden & his crew, as those character’s & their on screen Chemistry will make this show or break it… With that said everything i have seen so far is a step in the right direction!

  6. Can’t wait!

  7. Very excited. This is my favorite sci-fi book series and I’m convinced it will make an incredible show. Any ideas for shooting locations?

  8. That picture of Thomas Jane barely looks like Thomas Jane, although I can see Miller in that picture. (He was very good in THE MIST one, love the cheery ending of the movie). He was also great as Mickey Mantle in HBO’s 61*

    Terry McDonough, after reading of what he did above? Wow, he’s given viewers some great television.

    The more that is revealed about the series, the more impressive it seems like it could be.

  9. Very excited. Who is going to be Holden?

  10. I’m curious,… What is SyFy’s policy on cursing? I only ask because how can I watch Amo & Avilsarila with hearing them say FUCK?!

    Are they gonna be fucking dicks about it?

    • I don’t know yet what exactly our latitude is on that, but we’ll negotiate it. And we’ve got a room filled with people who are very good with being crude, condescending, and threatening without resorting to “frak.”

      • I’ve noticed a marked increase in sexual content in a couple of SyFy series this season, with both Defiance and Dominion getting TVMA-LSV ratings. I’ll have to start paying attention to see if I can take notice of language, and how far they’re allowing it to go. Usually swearing just rolls right over me without me noticing unless it’s been dubbed out.

        Which probably says something bad about my general lifestyle in regards to language.

        • If they can’t swear, I’m really hoping it just gets bleeped. Having every third word out of Avasarala’s mouth be bleeped would be hilarious.

  11. Great pic with Jane. Let’s see who plays Holden. If I can also suggest Adam Baldwin aka Jayne Cobb aka the Hero of Canton for Amos…..

  12. What I wouldn’t give for Dennis Haysbert as Fred Johnson…

    • Funny, I pictured him or Robert Wisdom from the Wire as Fred when I was reading the books.

    • Oh that’s good. He’d be perfect.

      I’m curious about Belters…CGI to show the different physique or super tall actors or just hand-waved away?

      • I know the answer to that question (and I think it’s the right one), but I don’t know if I get to say it in public yet. It’s very weird still having things I don’t get to say in public. 🙂

        • Given how the dwarves and hobbits were handled in LOTR, I have a good feeling about your answer, especially since WETA is involved.

          • As much as I would like for them to do the VFX for this show, I have a feeling that WETA will only be involved in the design of costumes, make-up, and physical props (the areas of expertise of Richard Taylor). Using the tricks used in LOTR to change the physique of the belters (tall and short body doubles, different camera angles, duplicate sets of different sizes, CGI, etc.) can certainly be used but carries the potential for disaster especially in a TV production, imo, not to mention the cost. Still, I’m very excited. It seems that the writers have been able to come up with a creative solution to address this. Cannot wait to see the trailer for this show.

    • Fred Johnson the way I see him!

  13. So… you can’t *tell us* about the Holden casting yet, but do you know yourselves or is he yet to be cast?

    Super thrilled about this!

  14. So very happy about this.

    Can you talk about the general episode formats that are getting attention in the writer’s room?

    I know that might be pretty close to the line, but we would love to know if we are going to get the best sci fi book series ever more as an adventure-of-the-week with the bigger story arc tied in, or set of chapters following a theme, or even a series that follows the pace of the novels.

    The great thing is that this show could work any or all of those ways, and has a strong base to build a plot, setting, or character driven series.

    Well, just be careful about the character-driven format because of all the compelling one-novel characters.

    • I don’t get to comment on that yet except to say I’m very pleased with what’s happening in the writing room, and I’m looking forward to seeing both the final result and people’s reactions to it.

  15. Awesome news and I’m looking forwards to seeing the final result 🙂

    Excessive levels of pedantry compel me to point out that “Weta” isn’t an acronym though. It’s named after one of these nightmarish denizens of New Zealand:

    Inspiration for something to show up in future books, perhaps? 🙂

  16. I’m so pleased the TV series is going ahead as planned! Thomas Jane is a lot younger (and prettier) than I pictured Miller in my head, but he does have the rumpled bit down pat and the credentials to boot.

    Like others, I’m very eager to find out more on Holden and his crew. I’m hoping that the show would get to reflect and maintain the diverse cast of the books — in Naomi and Alex, of course, but there are also Bobbi and Avasarala and the amazing Julie Mao and many others. But I understand the show business doesn’t always work that way.

    Anyway, very much looking forward to it! Any chance that the Dagger and the Coin series getting a live-action treatment, too? 😉

    • Thinking about those additional characters, like Bobbi and Juli Mao, how close to the book(s) do you see the show adhering? I’d almost be inclined to say that each of the four books so far could be a 10-show season in itself, and maybe even longer.

  17. I already can see this must be a great show! with so many very talented people working on it. You guys are awesome!

    Yijun Wu

  18. Great news indeed, and I’m looking forward to seeing Thomas Jane cut loose as Miller.

    I’m equally happy to hear more about the production design, which you two were prevented from commenting upon at your last book tour in Seattle (prevented by ninjas, I believe). Creating believable environments for this show will be critical, and it looks like the right people are on the job.

    Now get back to writing book five, before I start getting withdrawal shakes. Damn you both for getting me hooked on a series again, after a long break from the genre.

    Christopher Doll

  19. Can you comment on how freefall scenes will be handled?

  20. Great news. The books were amazing!!! Dont forget to write some more!!!

  21. So, does this become the first unofficial model from the series?

  22. I’m going to veer off topic for just a second and say that the Expanse series is one of the most wildly entertaining stories I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege to read. It’s like when the two of you set out to write these books that you had a checklist of all the things I love, and put a tick in every box. The way you reinvent the genre with each subsequent novel will keep me reading these books forever, or at least as long as you keep writing them!

    I am beyond excited by all the news regarding the television adaptation. There is some stellar talent involved, and everything points to a genuine and heartfelt desire from everyone involved to make this something truly special. I absolutely cannot wait to see it realized!

    Thank you for bringing to life (on page and eventually screen) such a great cast and setting!

  23. Guys, so great to hear some more news on the show! Glad to see something that might have the quality of BSG and FarScape back in the SyFy fold.

    On the BSG topic, are you planning on going for a similar hand-held camera style or more of noir tone (I always imagined The Expanse as a bit of both)? Is the plan to film in Vancouver?

  24. Heard “word crimes” by wierd al and thought of you. Hehe. Hope you are doing well.

  25. Dan, only three days until “the widow’s house” publishing and all I see is news on the expanse series (your only series I have not read)… are you entitled to give us a teaser? Can’t wait for it to appear on my kindle!

    • “We’re a bank. When we’ve won, we have less risk and more money. You’ve brought less money and more risk. You made the classic error. You saw something you wanted, and you bought it. For you it was Timzinae lives. For someone else it could have been fancy jewelry. It doesn’t matter. It’s the same mistake.”

  26. Let me say right off that I am not a fan of SF. At all. I don’t generally enjoy stories about space travel or the distant future. I am, however, obsessed with this series. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it turned into a show… For you and for me as a fan. I think this crosses genres for me because of the details and humanity in the story. I can connect to these characters. They’re real. Their story matters and it’s one that could be playing out in the present just as easily.

    The diversity of the characters was what drew me in first. It’s the only thing I feel a bit hesitant to see portrayed on screen… Hollywood white-wash effect anyone? Please fight for a true representation of your characters. Don’t give in! There are plenty of talented people in every shade under the sun. Some suggestions;

    Alex – Kal Penn (instantly likeable, can be funny too)
    *Naomi – Shanti Lowry (perfect exotic look, lean and tall, dance and martial arts background, talented actress)
    *Avasarala – Shohreh Aghashloo (who I pictured all along, has the chops)
    Julie – Krystal Vee (delicate beauty with a strength underneath)

    Good luck and congratulations all at once.

  27. It will be interesting to see how belter physique is handled. One of the critical issues is the mind set of those raised in a space environment, as opposed to planet raised.

  28. Hope they stay loyal as much as a TV series can to the source material..this as a series will rock Syfy the way that BSG did..

  29. I have one question.

    Why has the character of Naomi Nagata – Communications /main love interests of Holden the captain been left out?

    In the books she is one of the main characters throughout the whole series. She is number #3 behind Holden and Detective Miller and well ahead of the under-secratary character of Chrisjen Avasarala?

    It is amazing that no one has said anything or even given a little protest to this issue. Why has the author agreed to having his characters marginalized? What is the point of doing a story from a source if you are not going to try to build them out for T.V. / Film.

    Here character is there more than just a bed warmer and the writers could do with developing a background for her. Or is it true that Hollywood and film houses just don’t want to deal with developing characters of colour?

    Which is it.

    I enjoyed the books and how all the characters are played out, but if they are going to kill off a central character in the first episode so that they don’t have to deal with the issue of “Black People” in space – Fred J. character not included. They can show and indicate that there is more than one colour allowed in space.

    Let’s go people. Get up in this century.

    That now said. I hope this series kicks-ass.


    • Naomi hasn’t been left out. Dominique Tipper’s playing her.

      • What I meant was, the character is slated to only be in the 1-show (to date). It would appear that they are lessening the importance of this character in the TV series as opposed to the books.

        She is the XO on the ship. Amos and Alex are just pilot and Mechanic. She is the communications, but she has more depth than another Communications officer.



  30. I’m curious if there was a specific person who was the inspiration for Chrisjen Avasarala? Such a fantastic character!

  31. Thomas Jane is magnificent in the role of Miller!