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Terry Pratchett's Discworld Deserves A True Fantasy TV Series, & Discworld Noir Is The Perfect Gateway

The golden age of fantasy adaptations has been here for quite a while now, but somehow, many famous fantasy universes still remain untouched by the money-hungry hands of streaming juggernauts and Hollywood studios. Intellectual properties like Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere may still be waiting for their inevitable transition to live-action, but as fans of a certain prominent fantasy humorist know, it's one thing to receive a live-action adaptation and completely another to get a good one. 

Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is a goldmine of amazing satirical fantasy stories set in the titular flat world that rests atop four elephants, which in turn are carried by the World Turtle, Great A'Tuin. His 41 Discworld novels and several short stories are a clever mixture of laugh-out-loud fantasy parody and fearless exploration of complex real-world issues.

With over 50 bestsellers in his complete catalog, Pratchett is the kind of writer whose work seems like a natural choice for a live-action adaptation. Indeed, attempts have been made in the past, but they've failed to set the world alight in the same way TV and movie adaptations of some other ultra-successful fantasy writers' work have. Some might attribute this to the comedic nature of his work, or to the fact that Discworld is a sprawling, ever-evolving place that lacks the kind of clear multi-book arc "The Lord of the Rings" and "A Song of Ice and Fire" have. However, those are just excuses. A perfect way to create a live-action Discworld series does exist, and the only reason no one's done it yet is that they haven't chosen the right project to adapt. Said project is GT Interactive's 1999 video game "Discworld Noir," which exists on the periphery of Pratchett's stories, yet serves as a perfect entry point to his enticing universe. 

Discword Noir's moodiness is the secret ingredient a Discworld TV show needs

The video game "Discworld Noir" exists outside the official Discworld book canon, yet is nevertheless connected to it and features several familiar characters from the books. "Noir" is exactly what it says on the tin; it brings a film noir aesthetic to Discworld, and filters the fantasy elements through that lens. This creates a unique vibe that makes it stand out from other Discworld stories — and would make for a fantasy show that's unlike anything else out there.

If you're one of the vast majority of people who haven't played the adventures of Discworld's first (and quite possibly last) private eye, Lewton, we'll avoid spoiling too much of the plot here — let's just say that this game goes hard. From its very opening, it's clear that only Pratchett's darkest City Watch novels can match "Discworld Noir" in terms of intensity, with the added element of eldritch horror that's familiar from the more magic-oriented storylines in the books. 

As such, the game is effectively a greatest hits collection of Discworld's best story beats — at least when it comes to the tales that take place in Ankh-Morpork — all filtered through movies like "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon," and with supporting roles by franchise players like Sam Vimes, Nobby Nobbs, and Gaspode the Wonder Dog. The noir angle keeps things from getting too blatantly comedic while still allowing for plenty of jokes, and the classic Discworld vibe makes sure things won't get too grim and gritty. In other words, it's a perfect package for TV adaptation. 

Discworld Noir is one of the few adaptations to understand the venom in Pratchett's writing

The thing that most Terry Pratchett adaptations seem to miss is that he's not wacky. Yes, the world he built is inherently more than a little bit ridiculous. Yes, he peppers his plots with absurd concepts that will so frequently induce guffaws to the point where you might want to avoid reading the books in a public place. Despite this, Pratchett was no cheerful comedy guy. As his collaborator Neil Gaiman wrote in The Guardian in 2014, the Discworld author was actually a very angry man who used his frustration with the world's unjust nature as a source of inspiration.  

Several major Pratchett characters run on carefully contained anger, and the tension in the novels often comes from social change and the people who wish to abuse it. After the first few books' more straightforward fantasy parody, the series runs on socioeconomic commentary so hard that Discworld undergoes an industrial revolution, and the complexity of real-life right and wrong, when applied to a fantasy setting, is a common theme. At one point, Ankh-Morpork City Watch commander Sam Vimes — arguably the central character of the entire "Discworld" franchise — coins the "Boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness," an economic theory that's become so well-known that it has its own Wikipedia page.

Though always present, this element can be easy to lose in the barrage of jokes, fun cover art, sentient luggage trunks that eat people, and extremely NSFW songs about wizards and hedgehogs. Nevertheless, it's the backbone of Pratchett's narratives. So far, "Discworld Noir" is the only non-book Discworld project that has come close to capturing these grittier elements of the franchise, which is another important argument for choosing it for a live-action adaptation.

The game managed to capture Discworld's spirit without Pratchett supervising every step

Another very good reason for choosing "Discworld Noir" for live-action adaptation is that it has the Terry Pratchett seal of approval as something that exists alongside the novels without technically being part of the official continuity. 

"It would save me a certain amount of difficulty if we had characters who hadn't appeared before and wouldn't necessarily do so again. I don't have to be as careful as I would if the hero was an established character," Pratchett once said, discussing the practicality of having an original character as the "Discworld Noir" protagonist in a 1999 interview with Gamespot UK. The writer was personally involved with the project, but it's noteworthy that he trusted the developers enough that he participated much less than he did with other "Discworld" games. 

Since Pratchett passed away in 2015, whatever Discworld TV adaptations end up happening will need to do so without his input. Since "Discworld Noir" is in a rather unique position as a project that he was invested in but was comfortable with other people tinkering with, this would make it a natural choice for adaptation. 

Discworld Noir could be The Mandalorian of the Discworld franchise

A "Discworld Noir" show would obviously have to tinker with a whole bunch of things to bring the video game to life — for instance, the game's version of Sam Vimes doesn't quite line up with his portrayal in the books, which may be a problem because he's arguably the single most important character to get right in the long run. Once again, this isn't a problem as much as it is an opportunity, given the game's relative obscurity. Since Lewton and other major characters are original, the TV show could characterize them how it sees fit. When it comes to the canon characters, the show would act as a handy sounding board on what works and what doesn't. 

This isn't exactly a new concept. In recent years, "The Mandalorian" has done similar heavy lifting for the small screen leg of the "Star Wars" franchise by basing the show around a new protagonist, throwing in a healthy mix of original and existing characters, and laying the groundwork for numerous spin-offs. This is exactly what "Discworld Noir" could and should do, as well. Just throw in as many cameos and book references as you can get away with, and finetune the inevitable spin-offs based on the feedback.

A Discworld Noir show could learn much from previous Pratchett adaptations

Terry Pratchett's works have been adapted to live action before, and the results have been on the sliding scale of "fun curiosity" to "atrocious misstep." On the entertaining yet harmless end of the scale exists "The Colour of Magic," "Hogfather," and "Going Postal." All three get many things right, but at the end of the day, they tend to seem more concerned with replicating Pratchett cover artists Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby's vision of Discworld than with the actual spirit of the stories. On the "oops" end we have BBC America's heavily reimagined "The Watch" series, which worried Discworld fans from its very first trailer and was effectively disavowed by Pratchett's daughter. While it makes a spirited attempt at latching into the books' peculiar combination of medieval fantasy and industrial-age technology, the actual end result is a TV show that exists but ... uh, probably shouldn't.

This track record might make it seem pretty daunting for any production company to fork out the considerable amount of cash a Discworld-themed show would require. However, the fact that there are multiple Discworld adaptations that fail to live up to the franchise's full potential can actually be a positive thing, because it means there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the things they did right or wrong. "The Watch," in particular, would provide plenty of information on how not to make a Discworld-themed procedural.

Combine this opportunity to learn from what's come before with a good story — which, yes, "Discworld Noir" has in spades — and all you need is a showrunner who knows Pratchett's work well enough to infuse the show with his spirit. Fortunately, a very good candidate for the gig has emerged in recent years. 

Neil Gaiman is the showrunner Discworld Noir needs

Neil Gaiman has been a very good writer for a long time, but he's extended his influence into the live-action world in numerous ways. After writing screenplays for a good while now, in recent years he's amassed numerous producing credits for shows based on his work, like Starz's "American Gods" and Netflix's "The Sandman." He also served as the showrunner of the well-received "Good Omens" Amazon Prime series, which just so happens to be based on a book he wrote with Terry Pratchett. 

"Good Omens" doesn't always follow the book faithfully, but it does adapt Gaiman and Pratchett's humor extremely deftly. As it happens, the two authors knew each other for decades before Pratchett's death, and Gaiman evidently understood the work of his friend very well — after all, it was he who has waxed poetic about the anger Pratchett uses as writing fuel. Given that Gaiman has proved his showrunner chops and likely has the requisite understanding of Discworld to do justice for a TV adaptation, he would be a natural choice for a showrunner. 

Given the role of "Discworld Noir" in her father's legacy and her own experience as a prolific video game writer, Rhianna Pratchett would also be a natural addition to the "Discworld Noir" team. Together, she and Gaiman would no doubt be able to bring the story to live action in a way that does Pratchett's work justice and opens the door for all sorts of fascinating Discworld adaptations.