Back in October 2020, we reported that Legendary Entertainment was securing the screen rights to one of sci-fi's oldest and most underused characters, Buck Rogers and now the reboot/reimagining has attracted a significant Hollywood player, actor and director George Clooney.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, both Clooney and his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov will act as executive producers for the new show, which is being developed to allow Clooney to take a starring role. However, the Hollywood Reporter also says that insiders insist there is currently no acting deal in place, so we'll have to see what transpires. Is Clooney eyeing the title role? If not, who would be a good fit? Perhaps he's thinking more along the lines of a Dr. Huer-esque mentor-type role?
Clooney and Heslov join Don Murphy and Susan Montford, who are producing the show through their company, Angry Films, whose credits include "Transformers" and "Real Steel." They will all be joined by co-producer Flint Dille, the grandson of John F. Dille; he was the head of the National Newspaper Syndicate and commissioned Philip Nowlan to turn his novel "Armageddon 2419" into the comic strip "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" in 1928 and thus the character was born.
The new incarnation is being written by Brian K. Vaughan ("Lost," "Runaways"), apparently with the goal of launching a feature motion picture and an anime off-shoot if the initial series is a success.
The last time Buck Rogers appeared on the small screen — not including reruns — was April 1981 when Gil Gerard took the titular role and Glen A. Larson produced the show. The series gave us so many iconic elements of contemporary science fiction, including Twiki, space vampires, the Draconian Empire and the awesome Thunderfighter. Before that, former Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe starred in a Saturday morning serial film in 1939. Forty years later, Crabbe had a cameo role as Brigadier Gordon alongside Gerard in the "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" episode "Planet of the Slave Girls" (S01, E03)
While some reboots currently in production remain questionable (NBC and its "Battlestar Galactica" reboot, for example) this one is way overdue. Although quite why no one has adapted "Upgrade" into a sci-fi drama television show is baffling. The Grey Trace character could become a cop for example, à la the vastly underrated "Almost Human."
But will it happen?
On Tuesday (Feb. 2), Deadline Hollywood reported that the Buck Rogers estate, overseen by the Nowlan Family Trust, is looking to put an end to this reboot and has sent a cease and desist letter via mail and email to Michael Ross, Legendary Entertainment EVP of Business Affairs. The estate contends that “the Buck Rogers interests” have already penned an agreement with David Ellison’s Skydance Productions to exploit the property.
The letter goes on to say that Legendary and all other parties involved in the recently announced claim should abandon making such claims that they have secured the rights to the property. "You are directed to advise all third parties, including any insurers, distributors, and financiers that there is no chain of title held by Legendary/Murphy."
While this all sounds very final, Deadline notes that a cease-and-desist letter doesn’t mean much unless you’re willing to back it up with an actual lawsuit. And Legendary is far from an amateur entertainment production company operating out of a garage.
“We have secured the rights we need to proceed with our project and the company will not comment any further on these baseless claims.” a spokesperson for Legendary told Deadline. “This same party has been claiming for years that they have rights which they do not have and have been trying to inhibit projects based on rights they do not legally control.”
That said, the lawyers representing the estate, Johnson & Johnson, are far from amateur attorneys from rural Alabama. They've secured some significant entertainment industry legal victories in the past. It's entirely possible that this unfortunate case could drag on and quickly become very expensive, which is a damn shame, because we were really looking forward to it.