ABC Tried To Make A Patriot Games TV Series And Sparked A Legal Battle Over Jack Ryan

03June2024

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan has had an unusual history on screen. Alec Baldwin was the first actor to suit up as the CIA analyst, playing him in 1990's spectacular submarine thriller "The Hunt for Red October. That film would have theoretically served as the first of many Baldwin-as-Jack-Ryan films, but the actor was overshadowed by Sean Connery in that movie, and negotiations with Paramount Pictures for Baldwin to return in a sequel got so testy that the studio ultimately replaced him with Harrison Ford in 1992's "Patriot Games." For those who have never seen "Patriot Games," it's the type of movie where a guy sternly says "get me hostage rescue at Quantico, now!" into a phone. We're talking top-tier 1990s Dad Cinema, here.

In the summer of 1988, two years before "The Hunt for Red October" hit screens, Paramount had paid a reported $450,000 for the rights to author Tom Clancy's novel and was in the middle of development on the film version. But at that same time, ABC Studios was working on a TV adaptation of the "Patriot Games" novel, which debuted in 1987. Thanks to some legal confusion about which studio actually had the right to the character in which medium, the situation became so tangled that a Jack Ryan TV show (which preceded the eventual real one by decades) wound up abandoned before it ever really got started.

We could have seen a Jack Ryan TV show in the 1980s

According to the American Film Institute's website, author Tom Clancy was "engaged in a copyright dispute between the novel's first publisher, the Naval Institute Press, and its current publisher, G. P. Putnam's Sons" in 1988 while all of this development was happening. The crux of the disagreement came down to Paramount and ABC Studios both thinking they had the rights to the Jack Ryan character. Paramount claimed that its $450,000 deal for "The Hunt For Red October" included rights to any sequel story, while ABC disagreed, thinking they were in the clear to make a Jack Ryan TV show centered on the "Patriot Games" story. Paramount was reportedly "concerned a television production would create an image of Ryan that did not fit with their film's characterization"; back in the era where films and TV were more strictly separated and film was still the dominant form of pop culture entertainment, you can understand the studio's reluctance at the idea of paying millions of dollars for a movie, only to have a different iteration of the character show up on TV to potentially water down the studio's vision (and box office potential for theatrical sequels). Ultimately, the dispute resulted in ABC Studios giving up on the TV adaptation, and the film went ahead as planned.

Ford went on to play Jack Ryan again in 1994's "Clear and Present Danger" before Ben Affleck took over in 2002 for "The Sum of All Fears," and when that movie failed to provide enough spark at the box office, Paramount waited more than a decade before trying again with Chris Pine in the role for 2014's "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit." When that movie also failed to relaunch the franchise, Amazon Prime Video scooped up the rights to the character for streaming and cast John Krasinski in the lead role for the simply named "Jack Ryan" TV series that ran for four seasons. At this rate, we expect to see another attempt to bring Jack Ryan to the big screen somewhere between eight and twelve years from now.

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