In April 2014, Deadline exclusively revealed that original Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and several producers were throwing together a potential TV show rebirth for the franchise, crafting an hour-long drama re-imagining Jason Voorhees in multiple time periods. I was more than a little skeptical at the time, pointing out that no network was attached yet and the project seemed like a long shot. In March 2015, Cunningham told the crowd at Monster-Mania Convention the project had progressed far enough that the CW expressed an interest. I offered up a sarcastic, “Sure they have, Cunningham.”
Well shut my cynical mouth. The CW is now officially developing a Friday the 13th TV series to be written by Steve Mitchell & Craig Van Sickle, better known as the guys who created the ‘90s TV series The Pretender. CW’s President Mark Pedowtiz confirmed this news during the networks’ appearance at the Television Critics Association Press Tour.
Not to revert right back to cynicism, but during the most recent pilot season The CW commissioned two promising pilots, a Tales from the Darkside re-launch and Cheerleader Death Squad, which were ultimately not ordered to series. This Friday the 13th thing isn’t even on that level yet. It’s merely joining The Notebook, Little Women and Frequency in the list of former movies the CW is currently trying to adapt to TV. Still, Cunningham said the CW was interested, and now he’s followed through. Kudos, my good man. Kudos.
What’s interesting is the way this project has morphed over time.
The Multiple Time Periods Show
When this was originally announced, Deadline’s exact quote was, “Bill Basso (Terminator) and Jordu Schell (Avatar) are developing a story line which re-imagines Jason in multiple time periods. Expect the show to take viewers in some exciting new directions that we’re confident will not only excite existing fans of Friday the 13th but also attract new audiences to the situations and characters that inhabit the small town of Crystal Lake.”
I personally took that to mean they were going to do their own Bates Motel, replacing Norman with Jason and Norma with Pamela Voorhees. Plus, like Bates Motels they were probably going to binge-watch Twin Peaks and then set out to make their own small time, in this case Crystal Lake, something David Lynch would be proud of. By “multiple time periods,” I figured there would be a framing device positioning everything as flashbacks experienced by a present-day Jason stalking victims from the shadows. That was my own interpretation because they didn’t give us much to go off of.
The Meta, “What if the Friday the 13th Movies Had Been Inspired By a Real Life Serial Killer?” Show
Friday the 13th is the movie Sean Cuningham made when he called screenwriter Victor Miller and said, “Look how much money Halloween just made. Let’s rip it off.” That’s not me editorializing; that’s the actual story Miller has repeatedly told about the making of the movie. Jason was added to the ending mostly because they saw Carrie and wanted to rip it off, give the audience one last scare.
That’s really it. There is no great, secret story behind any of it, certainly nothing like the story of the real life serial killer whose 1990 haunting of a college town in Florida partially inspired the Scream series. However, at some point along the way Cunningham and Co. decided the best way to make Friday the 13th into a TV show would be to ignore the franchise’s actual history and pretend like there really was some sick bastard out there who was used as inspiration in the creation of the fictional character they named Jason Voorhees. As Cunningham told Monster-Mania Convention attendees in March, the Friday the 13th TV series was running with the following ideas:
1. The setting will still be Crystal Lake but a “real Crystal Lake” whose dark history inspired the Friday the 13th movies. The recent quasi-Town that Dreaded Sundown sequel took that same approach, except in that case there really is a town and masked killer that inspired the events depicted in the 1976 cult classic.
2. Jason will not be the central killer, ala the way MTV’s Scream doesn’t feature Ghostface. This is because in the world of this TV series Jason Voorhees will simply be the fictional killer featured in almost every Friday the 13th movie, but unlike our real world they will posit that there actually was a real Crystal Lake killer that inspired the creation of Jason. This “real life Jason” will be the killer of the show, Cunningham describing him as a “more serious backwoods inspired killer.” No word yet on whether this guy will have a similar hockey mask fetish.
The history of the Friday the 13th franchise is ripe with examples of the pitfalls of not giving the audience what it wants, which is clearly to see Jason Voorhees hacking and slashing nubile teens. So, a series without Jason sounded risky, although MTV’s Scream seems to be doing fine without that Ghostface mask. However, this meta-approach actually sounded like a workable premise for a TV series.
The “We’re Not Totally Sure What They’re Up To Now” Show
According to Deadline, “I hear that the new series re-imagines the masked Jason with a stronger feel of grounded reality. Described as a sophisticated, horror/crime thriller, the potential Friday The 13th series is about the ongoing quest of a detective’s search for his missing brother that is somehow tied to Jason Voorhees, a long thought dead serial killer who has now returned to wreak havoc in the new Crystal Lake.”
That doesn’t really sound like the meta approach Cunningham had teased, yet I could see a version of it that would maintain that idea. It also doesn’t quite sound like the multiple time periods thing, at least not the way I had imagined it, yet through Arrow-esque flashbacks it could easily have multiple time periods going. Ultimately, it sounds more like a re-worked and updated version of the “hunky brother looking for his missing sister” storyline played out by Jared Padelecki in the 2009 reboot, which was already a story borrowed (unintentionally, according to the screenwriters) from Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter.
The big question is really how do you make a slasher film franchise into a TV series? Scream‘s answer has been to turn it into a murder mystery, but that element was already baked into the formula since every Scream movie is a “Whodunit?” Friday the 13th vacated that premise the moment Jason nonsensically emerged from beneath Crystal Lake at the end of the first movie and then became the franchise mascot. You could go back to the mystery angle, and I could see a version where the returned serial killer is not Jason but a copycat, ala Friday the 13th: Part V. Still, the current pitch for the TV series appears to lean toward murder investigation and likely promises gradual reveals about the sordid history of Crystal Lake.
As far as this thing ever making it to air, I’ll still only believe it when I see it, but I do now greatly look forward to a potential Supernatural/Friday the 13th crossover episode with plenty of in-jokes about how much Sam Winchester looks an awful lot like a kid who went missing at Camp Crystal Lake a couple years back.