How's this for an unexpected twist? M. Night Shyamalan, the Philly-centric master of suspense cinema, is making his first leap into scripted television.
Shyamalan and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Mari Nixon have landed a deal with Syfy to co-write and co-produce a project called "Proof." The series will reportedly center on a bereaved billionaire who offers a reward to anyone who can produce evidence of life after death. Shyamalan may also direct the project according to the Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the story. Ashwin Rajan, a producer for Shyamalan's production company, Blinding Edge Pictures, is on board as an executive producer.
The small-screen venture is a bit of a departure for Shyamalan, a noted cinephile who has been vocal in the past about his belief that movies belong in theaters. At a 2005 film convention in Orlando, Fla., he famously criticized Mark Cuban's 2929 Entertainment for its plan to release movies simultaneously in theaters and on television -- a move that some saw as the beginning of the end for cinema distribution. An outraged Shyamalan told the crowd that he would quit making movies if such a scenario ever occurred. Speaking later about the general decline of theatrical attendance, he explained to Variety that "if you inspire audiences, theaters will be packed."
Given Shyamalan's avowed love for the big screen, some of his many detractors are bound to see his venture into television as an attempt to revive a meandering career, particularly after 2010's critically savaged "The Last Airbender." Shyamalan rose to rapid cinematic stardom with 1999's "The Sixth Sense" -- the kid-sees-ghosts drama that made him famous for the Shyamalanic twist ending -- but he has since lost favor with a good number of those early champions. A graph published on NPR's "Planet Money" in 2010 shows the steady downward trajectory of Shyamalan's Rotten Tomatoes ratings since he burst on the scene 13 years ago.
Some supporters of the director think those critical assessments are unfair. "The knee-jerk wisdom about Shyamalan is that he peaked with 'Sixth Sense,' and it's been downhill ever since," said Carrie Rickey, a film critic who worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 25 years before stepping down last year. "Most of his fans, and the box office, contradict that knee-jerk wisdom: 'Unbreakable,' 'Signs' and 'The Village' were huge box-office successes."
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Rickey goes on to say that "Airbender" was Shyamalan's only real disappointment, but the 2006 film "Lady in the Water" was probably his biggest flop. The Paul Giamatti starrer earned a domestic gross of just over $42 million on a budget of $70 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
Still, Shyamalan is by no means finished with movies, and if anything poises him for a big-screen comeback it is his next theatrical release, "After Earth," a big-budget sci-fi epic featuring the father/son duo of Will and Jaden Smith scrambling to survive on a post-apocalyptic earth. The movie is slated for a June 2013 release. The dichotomy between a Will Smith tentpole and Syfy series prove that, if nothing else, size doesn't matter to one plot-twisting auteur. "Shyamalan also produced 'Devil,' a low-budget film, last year," added Rickey. "Like Spielberg and Lucas before him, he's producing both small-scale and large-scale projects."