NEW YORK Move over, Astro Boy and Iron Man — Bat Boy could soon be stepping up to the plate.
The half-bat, half-human character is just one of 30-odd wacky creations spawned by the erstwhile supermarket tabloid Weekly World News and now up for grabs in Hollywood.
CAA has signed WWN to a representation deal, and DreamWorks is developing a TV show that likely will be the first to tap into the company’s library of characters and its tens of thousands of offbeat stories.
Founded in 1979, the tongue-in-cheek tabloid made its mark with stories about conspiracies, cover-ups, aliens, Bigfoot, Elvis sightings and supernatural phenomena. The publication went online-only two years ago.
The push to license characters to Tinseltown, including deals for film projects, comes after ownership of WWN changed hands a year ago and CEO Neil McGinness set out to revive the brand. It also coincides with the celebration of the tab’s 30th anniversary.
McGinness thinks Hollywood and audiences will embrace the firm’s cast of characters, which he said are different from superheroes because they are “cuddly but dangerous.”
“You’re seeing an embrace of the fringe,” he said, pointing to such TV hits as Lost, Heroes and Fringe. “Zombies were big two years ago. Vampires are the rage this year. And we think 2010 will be Bat Boy’s year.”
McGinness describes Bat Boy as “our Superman or Batman,” pointing out that fans have uploaded more Bat Boy images on the Internet than Scooby-Doo pictures. “He is in the genre of the trickster hero — like Huckleberry Finn,” he said.
Other recurring WWN characters include neo-conservative columnist Ed Anger, who McGinness calls “the original blueprint for Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh”; the UFO Alien, a brainy political pundit who correctly predicted every U.S. presidential race since the Reagan era before switching allegiance from Barack Obama to John McCain at the last second; the Lake Erie Monster, aka Lemmie, who last year tried out for a female cast member role on Saturday Night Live; Scooter, the world’s richest hamster; Ph.D. Ape; Man-agator (half-human, half-alligator); and Tonya, the world’s fattest cat.
It isn’t clear which WWN characters the DreamWorks project will exploit or whether it will be a live-action or animated series, but Bat Boy is expected to play a key role.
“The Weekly World News owns a powerful library of stories and characters like Bat Boy,” said Justin Falvey, co-president of DreamWorks Television. Added co-president Darryl Frank: “Iconic subject matter like this lends itself to adaptation for television.”
And the fringe spirit and alien stories of WWN also seem in touch with the sensibilities of DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg.
McGinness ran the entertainment and comedy divisions at sports and entertainment agency IMG as vp after serving as head corporate development officer at National Lampoon. Before that, he was vp of marketing for Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video.
McGinness led a group of investors under the moniker Bat Boy Llc. that bought WWN, whose tagline is “The World’s Only Reliable News,” from American Media in October 2008.
“I’ve always been a fan and used to read them in college,” McGinness told The Hollywood Reporter, comparing the satirical approach to that of the Onion. “I saw it as a mini-Marvel. And I wanted to take the focus off the page and into film and TV entertainment, theater, comic books and merchandise.”
He has done so with a series deal with comic-book publisher IDW that will explore key WWN characters in more depth, a Bat Boy autobiography (to be published by CBS-owned Simon & Schuster), an iPhone app and assorted merchandise. A Bat Boy musical can be seen in 50 stagings around the U.S., and there’s talk of a Broadway play.
Hollywood has repeatedly paid homage to WWN. Most notably, in Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones refers to the paper as doing the “best damn investigative reporting on the planet.” Similarly, So I Married an Axe Murderer saw Mike Myers’ character get clues about his fiancee’s secrets from copies of WWN, which his mother read.
More recently, WWN landed cameos in the upcoming alien comedy Paul and last year’s Tropic Thunder. And Johnny Depp once was quoted as saying: “The only gossip I’m interested in is things from the Weekly World News. ‘Woman’s bra bursts, 11 injured.’ That kind of thing.”