The Sandman will eventually become a television series, if author Neil Gaiman has any say in the matter. Gaiman's Sandman comics ranks alongside titles such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen, in terms of prestige and critical acclaim. Unlike those other two comic book titles, however, The Sandman has never been adapted for live-action — though it isn't for a lack of trying.
For the last two decades, Hollywood has tried to get a film version of The Sandman property off the ground. The latest incarnation saw David S. Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt try to produce the film but that, too, seems to have stalled, in the aftermath of Gordon-Levitt dropping out as director.
The Sandman published 75 issues over seven years and told a massive story which spanned hundreds of thousands of years — although most of it took place in modern day. Trying to adapt that into a two hour film seems to be the crux of the problem, which is exactly what series creator Neil Gaiman told THR:
"If I had control over Sandman, which I do not, because I signed the deal when I was 26, and I knew what I was getting into. The trouble with Warners, and I don't blame them for it, is they know that Sandman is one of the jewels in their crown — and they know that with the jewels in your crown, you make movies out of them," says Gaiman. "And they know they have Batman. 'We know what we have in Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Sandman… we just can't crack Sandman.' You can't crack it, because it's too big!"
The last writer to work on The Sandman film adaption, Eric Heisserer, agrees with that sentiment and left the project late last year because he believed it cannot be turned into a film. Where many fans believed Watchmen was unfilmable due to the subject material, The Sandman is just as thematically-dense, but also has the added problem of being over six times as long. Gaiman does have a solution, though: turn it into a television series. He continues:
"I suspect in a weird way, the fact that they took a tiny fragment of Sandman and now it's one of Fox's biggest hits might actually convince people to do the classy TV series I've been suggesting they do for 15 years now. For a long time, I've been saying with a movie, you'll have to throw so many things out. Why not take all the things that make [it difficult to adapt], take all the bugs in Sandman, and make them features. The fact that you have 75 issues, plus a whole bunch of stories? You have 80 episodes. That's a good thing! The fact that you have adult themes and adult things? That's now a good thing. It will be very strange to take Sandman to TV, but I really do think it's the most important thing we could do. And I hope if American Gods goes big? Between that and Lucifer, that could help."
There seems to be a shift in adult-targeted books and comics being adapted into TV series. Game of Thrones is a huge example of how that can be done, though the more relevant example here would be AMC's Preacher. Gaiman's novel American Gods is being adapted for the small screen by Bryan Fuller and will premiere this Sunday and shares some similarities to The Sandman. It comes as no surpries that given the chance, Fuller would be keen on turning The Sandman into a television series as well, telling Yahoo! TV:
“Those comics are so filled with so much story, and so much humanity and such visual candy — try to stop us if we have half the opportunity.”
The issue here is that Fuller seems to have his plate full. After all, working on American Gods forced him to bow out as showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, which he also created. Another problem may be that The Sandman is thought of as a huge property by Warner Bros. and turning it into a television series may seem like a downgrade. The project could potentially pull in more money as a feature-length film.
Because television seems to be getting more prestigious, it could warm Warners up to a TV series instead. Since it seems to be impossible to make a film, they could try making it a TV series and get something off the ground rather than have The Sandman languish in development hell.