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Shōgun: How Disney almost lost the rights to the hit FX/Hulu show

Hiroyuki Sanada, a horse, and a fire saved the TV series's 11-year production.

Image credit: FX

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FX's Shōgun is one of the most-talked about new shows of the season, especially after that two-part premiere on February 27 that was simulcast on both FX and Hulu in the US, and Disney+ and Star+ elsewhere around the world. But the series, which is based on a classic mid-20th century prose novel of the same name, almost didn't happen.

Image credit: FX

FX first announced this new Shōgun adaptation way back in 2013, but issues over the story made it so that a greenlight for filming wasn't given until five years later.

"It just took a while to find the right voice for the show," FX executive Gina Balian tells Variety. "The first version that was brought in had a much more Blackthorne-centric point of view."

Blackthorne, the main character of the book, presented a very Americanized version of the story - while FX and others wanted a more worldly perspective, given that the story is set almost-entirely in fuedal era Japan. The story was shifted, eventually, to focus on the fuedel lord Blackthorne worked for, Yoshii Toranaga.

"We got more comfortable with needing to tell it as much from the Japanese side, casting Japanese-speaking actors," Balian says. "We evolved as the project evolved."

Add to this that FX network head John Landgraf was continually pushing for something bigger than what had come before.

"One of the things that John Landgraf was interested in was 'What’s an epic story for this brand?'" says Balian.

The showrunners were helped in this when, in 2018, they recruited actor Hiroyuki Sanada, not only to star as Yoshii Toranaga - but also to become vested in the project as a producer.

That development proved invaluable when, in 2019, the Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Studios - which included FX. FX's rights to the Shōgun prose novel, first signed back in 2013, were about to expire at the end of the year, leading to a unique workaround to save the project: The producers filmed the barest of a scene in London to fulfill a detail of the rights contract so they could keep going.

"We shot just myself on the horse in front of the fire," Sanada says. "And then we kept the rights to the novel, then waited for the next chance."

And now five years later, we have FX's Shōgun.

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Chris Arrant


Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)