Get a First Glimpse of Foundation, the New TV Series Being Adapted from Isaac Asimov’s Iconic Series of Novels

Five years ago we told you about the plans to create a mini-series out of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi series Foundation, while also pointing you in the direction of the 1973 BBC radio dramatization. Back in 2015, Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, was attached and HBO was set to produce. And then we all forgot about it. (Well I did, anyway.)

Fast forward into the COVID tsunami of this week and AppleTV just dropped the first trailer for the series. Nolan is out and David Goyer is in as showrunner. Goyer loves his pulp, and wrote or co-wrote the Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City, and a lot of the recent DC Universe films. Also on board as executive producer is Robyn Asimov, Isaac’s daughter.

Production had started in Ireland on the series, but it closed up shop in March due to COVID-19. We have no idea how much of the 10-episode first season was shot, which might explain a preponderance of footage in the above trailer of people walking down corridors, walking into rooms, and staring out of windows, along with purely CGI establishing shots of spaceships and a black hole straight out of Interstellar.

On the other hand, we get a glimpse of Jared Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) as Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has developed a theory called “psychohistory” that allows him to see the future. And he does not like what he sees–empires collapsing, and a long dark age of 30,000 years. There’s also his protege called Gaal, played here by newcomer Lou Llobell; Lee Pace (Halt and Catch Fire) plays Brother Day, the emperor; and Leah Harvey plays Salvor, the warden of Terminus, where Seldon and Gaal are exiled. (Spoiler alert…we think.)

Two large questions to ask right now: will this ever get finished? And do we really need Foundation, or has its time passed?

For the first, AppleTV has put a date of 2021 for the hopeful premiere, but all the arts are on hold now. We might be looking at films that are even more CGI than they are now, shot totally on greenscreen in large socially distant studios, and assembled by a gigantic crew of remote animators. (Ireland is down to less than 10 cases of COVID-19 per day, so who knows.)

The second is more a matter of taste and a case of who’s adapting the books. Goyer’s filmography shows he’s much more of an action guy, and Asimov was more of an intellectual. We might see something between the international trade tariff skullduggery of The Phantom Menace and some Game of Thrones court intrigue.

The discussion on Metafilter certainly deserves a look, as it brings up issues like Asimov’s history of sexual harassment, the idea of Grand Old White Men of Sci-Fi, and a need to keep prestige television churning out product. And, of course, there’s a discussion of how much we might need some of Asimov’s optimism.

Asimov’s Foundation series was influenced by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and we are certainly thinking about empires falling right now, especially as we can hear Nero’s fiddle off in the distance, getting louder every day.

Related Content:

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future of Civilization–and Recommends Ways to Ensure That It Survives (1978)

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Witty, Erudite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

Isaac Asimov Laments the “Cult of Ignorance” in the United States: A Short, Scathing Essay from 1980

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Othon says:

    Question. I read the novels long time ago. In the novels, Gaal and Salvor where represented as men right or maybe my memory is failing me? Any reason as to why Apple producers decided to change main characters to female?

  • Stuart Collins says:

    Their gender really doesn’t matter, and isn’t important to the story. I’m just excited that it’s being made.

  • Frank says:

    This is very worrisome!
    An action film writer involved in Foundation is completely against the spirit if the novel series.
    Already I see vast differences feom the source material. Without much spoilers:
    Gaal Dormick and Salvor Harding are both male.
    Seldon is an old man about 80 years old at the start of the book. He NEVER sets foot on Terminus.
    Im concerned this will be nothing but an “in name only” series just like the horrible, unspeakable I Robot. Sad.

  • Arcadia Darell says:


  • Tina says:

    It’s a shame you can only watch it on Apple tv. Something of this magnitude should be available to EVERYONE. I SHOULDN’T have to subscribe to a streaming service to watch this show, or any show.

  • Steven Wallis, PhD says:

    Indeed! (in response to some comments… ahem… anyway… ) Yes, this has the potential to be an awesome series for a number of reasons. First, because we of the USA are facing the possibility of our own collapse (as did Rome back in the day). Second, because we in the present are also struggling with the development of some kind of social science (be it psychology, policy, sociology, or whatever) that will help us to better understand our situation, to make better decisions, to improve our world. my won research in this area suggests that we have about a 20% understanding of our society – so that our policies fail about 80% of the time! The social sciences will not advance to a level of Asimov’s dream for hundreds of years… unless to work to advance them in a new direction.

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