Some discussion of the post-Asimov Foundation novels elsewhere prompted me to see what was happening with the Foundation movie that was in development. I wrote about this first in 2004, and then in 2001. It turns out there was a new development last year — Jonathan Nolan, writer of Interstellar, is developing a television series for HBO.
I stand by what I wrote back in 2011: “Foundation isn’t cinematic, it’s not written to be cinematic, and it’s definitely not structured to be cinematic.” I go into some detail with my thinking; I’d recommend checking that out if you’re curious.
Yet, perhaps a television series can work. Something serialized, something with room to breathe. Here’s what I’m thinking for adapting Isaac Asimov’s Foundation for television.
The first season riffs on “The Encyclopedists” and “The Mayors.” Basically, it covers the early years of Terminus, the rise of Salvor Hardin, and the first two Selden crises.
Skip “The Traders” entirely; it’s the worst Foundation story by some distance.
The second season tackles “The Merchant Princes” and “The General.” This is the Hober Mallow era, when the political power of the Foundation is centered in the traders who are spreading the Foundation’s culture among the edges of the fallen Galactic Empire rather than the scientists and politicians back on Terminus.
The third season tackles “The Mule” and “Search by the Mule.” This is the fall of the Foundation.
The fourth season tackles “Search by the Foundation.” And at this point, I’d go off the rails a bit; invent a fourth century FE post-Mule Selden crisis and actually show that psychohistory is back on track. Foundation’s Edge shows us the aftermath of one, but let’s actually see one.
The fifth season tackles Foundation’s Edge. And I think you can stop there.
What about the prequel novels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation? I might approach Selden’s backstory in this way — do a Foundation-lite episode a season with Selden on Trantor, working its way in the first season with an abbreviated Prelude through Forward in later seasons, and finally with “The Psychohistorians” and Gaal Dornick in the final season.
I don’t think the television series should limit itself to what Asimov put on the page. A lot of Foundation is talky stuff about big things happening elsewhere. A television series is going to have to dramatize a lot of that. “Show, don’t tell” and all that rot. Hence, my use of the word “riff.” Use Asimov as the starting point, and adapt it to fit the medium.
There you have it, how I would make a Foundation television series. I still think it probably won’t work, but if anyone can figure out how to do it, Jonathan Nolan probably will.