Apple Makes a Show Based on Asimov’s Foundation Series

Apple plans to develop an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's seminal Foundation series. This could be a game changer for their plans to compete with Netflix and Amazon.
Christopher McFadden
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Apple has recently announced that it has given the go-ahead for a TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series. For Asimov fans, this is fantastic news and will be a must watch, for those unfamiliar with his work it will be an interesting addition to their regular Sci-Fi consumption.

Apple hopes this decision will help them compete with the giants of the market, Netflix, and Amazon. If they can pull it off they will certainly enjoy a decent market share in their gamble to fight its giant competitors. 

Rumors of an Apple-built TV streaming service has been around for some time now but news released in June of this year from Macworld appears to confirm it. The service will likely be available to watch via subscription on any Apple Tv, iPhone, and iPad.

According to Macworld one analyst believes this new service will have the potential to grow their existing Apple Music's paid subscriber base to 100-million users over three years. Impressive. 

"You can already stream some Apple's shows, as long as you subscribe to Apple Music for £9.99 a month (details of these below). It is thought that when it launches the new subscription service will either be available via a re-branded Apple Music or via the TV app. It's not clear whether Apple will include the content as part of the Apple Music monthly subscription, but it looks likely. The company says that there are now 38 million subscribers to Apple Music," reported Macworld.

The initial order is for 10 episodes but its future is yet to be seen. 

This news forms part of a larger strategy of Apple as it prepares to build-up its own streaming video service which is rumored to go live in early 2019. They have also invested a further $1 billion in other new shows and has ordered other potentially very interesting series'.

These include a space-based series from Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore, a reboot of Amazing Stories, a futuristic Hunger Games: Catching Fire-esque drama from Steven Knight and another untitled drama about a network morning show that will star Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston

Just a gentle warning that some content of this article provides an overview of the series plot so if you haven't read the books please skip those sections. We have provided warnings (like this one) at relevant points in the article.

What is the Foundation Series?

The Foundation Series is a highly acclaimed and famous Science Fiction book series written by one of "The Big Three" Science Fiction authors off all time, Isaac Asimov. Since its release in the 1950's it has, as well as much of Asimov's other back catalog, inspired countless other Sci-Fi writers throughout the 20th Century. 

For almost 30 years it was just a trilogy comprising:-

- Foundation - published in 1951;

- Foundation and Empire - published in 1952 and;

- Second Foundation - published in 1953.

After being awarded the prestigious Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966 (beating The Lord of the Rings) the series was cemented in history forever. In the 1980's, after Asimov had written and completed other highly acclaimed series, The Robot Series (that includes I, Robot) and the Galactic Empire Series, he decided to blend the two together into a coherent mega-series by writing several extended Foundation books.

These additional work added references to the events that occur in The Robot and Galactic Empire series. 

These included two sequels:-

- Foundation's Edge - published in 1982 and;

- Foundation and Earth - published in 1986.

He also added two prequels:-

- Prelude to Foundation - published in 1988 and;

- Forward the Foundation - published in 1993.

The Foundation series was originally a series of short stories published between 1942 and 1950 in Astounding Magazine. In Asimov's own words the story was itself, based on the ideas of Edwards Gibbon's seminal work [the] History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

His work was one of the first to actually theorize that nuclear power could be used for good and would revolutionize human society. He also included concepts about the problems of traditional religion as a means of control of the masses and further complications that could arise with science being adopted as a new faith for humanity.

Asimov recalled how the idea for the series came to him "spontaneously" whilst on his way to meet the editor John W. Campbell. Together they fleshed out the expanded idea of the development and eventual collapse of The Galactic Empire, the civilization-preserving Foundations, and 'psychohistory'.

The series was written by Isaac Asimov whilst he worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in West Philadelphia. 

Isaac Asimov Foundation Series Influence
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was a big influence on the series. Source: Burnside Rare Books

Who was Isaac Asimov?

Issac Asimov is one of the most brilliant and prolific science fiction writers of all time. His work has inspired many authors who followed him and, in many cases, brought science into the public eye for many decades. 

Isaac was a famed author in his own time is a legend amongst science fiction fans today. 

He was born sometime between October 1919 and January 1920 in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic but his family fled to the United States in 1923. Where he grew up in Brooklyn, New York.

After earning a Bachelors', Masters' and Doctorate in Biochemistry he would begin his science fiction and factual writing career in 1939 - one that would last for over six decades. He even managed to fit in being a professor of biochemistry throughout that time.

Over his writing career, he managed to write (or edit) over 500 books not including countless short stories and other contributions. His first novel, The Stars, Like Dust was published in 1951

Asimov not only wrote many books but also managed to create more sci-fi series than any other science fiction writer before or since. Whilst many of his contemporaries focused on a single universe, Asimov managed no less than 5

He was also a well-renowned factual science (and other genres) writer. He has been published in nine out of ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification (which organizes library materials by discipline or field of study).

Some of his better known non-sci-fi work includes:-

- Our Angry Earth;

- The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science;

Extraterrestrial Civilizations and;

Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.

He continued to write and edit well into the 1990's and his last book was published in 1992. This means, incredibly, for much of this time he was able to average 12 books a year!

Isaac suffered from a heart attack in 1977 and later had a triple heart bypass in 1983. Sadly he was infected with HIV during a blood-transfusion that would plague his health for the rest of his life. 

Isaac Asimov died in New York City on the 6th April 1992 and was cremated. 

Isaac Asimov 1965
Isaac Asimov circa 1959. Source: Phillip Leonian/Wikimedia Commons

What's the plot of the series?

If you don't want any spoilers and would prefer to wait for the televised adaptation please skip to the next section!!


The entire series is set in the future where mankind has managed to colonize and conquer all 'four corners' of the Milky Way. The Earth is barely remembered by most 'citizens' and the Empire is at its height in power and prestige. 

The basic plot of the Foundation series follows a mathematician called Hari Seldon who spends his life developing a branch of maths known as psychohistory. This is described as a form of mathematical sociology.

As an interesting aside, this was an entirely new word invented by Asimov in this series and has since entered the English Lexicon. It is also officially recognized by various dictionaries including the English Oxford Dictionary. He also invented a few other words that are also officially recognized including positronic (The Robot Series) and robotics (from his short story Lair!)

This discipline, in the series, makes use of something called "mass action". It is used to predict the future but only works for macro-scale predictions. Within the series, Seldon predicts the fall of the current Galactic Empire (which covers the whole of the Milky Way) that will be followed by a "Dark Age" of around 30,000 years

This, he predicts, will then be followed by a Second Great Empire that will rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Interestingly he also manages to conclude that the long hiatus can be reduced to only 1,000 years not last for 30 millennia

Selden soon realizes there is no way to prevent the fall of The Empire but does find of way to manage the decline. 

He sets about setting up a network of talented artisans, scientists and engineers across the galaxy to ensure that a more favorable outcome comes to pass by forming an organization called The Foundation. The premise of this organization is to preserve and expand humanity's collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for the accelerated resurgence of this new galactic empire.

His plan for his new group is to allow mankind to withstand his predicted age of ignorance, barbarism, and all-out warfare. But there is a catch, he was not able to predict the existence of a malign and depraved creature with mutant intelligence that will attempt to ruin his plans completely. 

Who will be the director and producer of the new Apple Foundation series?

According to reports from Deadline, the project will be developed by Skydance Television in partnership with Apple. David S. Goyer (of Batman Begins and Man of Steel) and Josh Friedman (of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) will be joint executive producers. 

Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, and Marcy Ross also will executive produce.

Goyer helped co-write the upcoming Terminator reboot (now in pre-production) and was also critical in the production of The Dark KnightBatman Begins, Ghost Rider and the Blade franchises. Friedman's back-catalog includes work on Avatar 2, the War of the Worlds remake.


 At the time of writing there has been no announcement of a potential director for the series. There have also not been announcements for any potential actors who will feature in the new series.

The next obvious question is "When will we be able to watch it?". The answer, we are afraid, is not yet forthcoming - there is no prospective release date (at the time of writing). 

There is, however, some tentative news that the series could begin airing as soon as March 2019.

Which other of Asimov's novels have been adapted for TV and Cinema?

This is actually more of an interesting question to answer than it might initially seem. Asimov, as well as the other "Big Three" Sci-Fi authors, have heavily influenced many subsequent Science Fiction books and TV/Film adaptions since the mid-20th Century. For example, Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Foundation Series (at least in part).

It should be noted that this has never been confirmed by George Lucas.

"I borrowed freely from Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in planning the Foundation series, and I believe that the motion picture Star Wars did not hesitate, in turn, to borrow from the Foundation series." - Isaac Asimov: A Memoir 1994

But he was modest enough to clarify earlier on:

"As a matter of fact, if you see these pictures, Star Wars and its sequels, there's a certain amount of stuff that came from my Foundation books. But what the heck, a certain amount of my Foundation books came from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. So how far back do you want to go? That's the way things work." - Isaac Asimov on Dick Cavett in 1989.

Despite this, there have been several direct adaptations of Asimov's work. The most notable ones being as follows.

1. A Halhatatlansag Halala - This was released in 1976 and was a Hungarian adaptation of Asimov's "The Death of Immortality". In fact, the title is a direct translation of Asimov's book title. 

2. The Ugly Little Boy - This was released in 1977 and was a Canadian "straight to TV" adaptation of Isaac Asimov's story of the same name. However, the original title was "Lastborn".

3. Конец Вечности (Konets Vechnosti) - This was a Russian adaptation of Asimov's "The End of Eternity" was released in 1987

4. Nightfall - Released in 1988 this American-made movie was based on one of Asimov's short stories that were published in 1941 of the same name. This was also later rewritten as a novel by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg in 1990.

5. The Android Affair - Released in 1995, this was another American-made TV film based on Asimov's work.

6. Bicentennial Man - The box office breaking 1999 film, featuring the late, great Robin Williams, was based on Isaac Asimov's 1992 novel "The Positronic Man". This book was co-written by Asimov and Robert Silverberg. 

7. Nightfall (2000) - A straight-to-DVD adaptation of Asimov's book of the same title that was also American-made.

8. I, Robot - Perhaps the first one that spring to everyone's mind I, Robot is an American science fiction film that was released in 2004

9. Formula of Death - This was a Persian adaptation of Asimov's novel of the same name that was released in 2012.

There are also a few Fan-made trailers/adaptations out there...

There have been several failed and aborted attempts to adapt the series in the past

Given the influence, the series has had on other writers and countless generations of children (and adults) who've read the books it's not surprising others have attempted to make their own versions of the series. In 1973, for instance, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) adapted the novels into a radio drama. 

Although the BBC versions were successful many others have 'fallen at the first hurdle'. In 1998, New Line Cinema attempted to make their own adaptation but it failed to materialize - instead, they decided to focus on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Later, in 2009, Stargate and Independence Day director Roland Emmerich was signed up to and develop a version of the series. This also fell by the wayside. 

HBO, unperturbed, bought the rights to the previous stalled production and brought in Jonathan Nolan to write another series based on Asimov's novels. This also faltered and was finally dropped in favor of working on Westworld instead. 

Hopefully, the new Apple venture will learn from these previous aborted attempts but they have taken on something very big indeed. The Foundation series has a huge array of characters, locations, jumps in time and, more importantly, fan anticipation (and potential criticism) to deal with. 

Their choice to turn into a series is a wise one as it would not translate well into a limited 2-hour format film. We admire their bravery for tackling this beloved book series. 

If you don't want any spoilers and would prefer to wait for the televised adaptation please don't watch the next video!!


The production team also developed Altered Carbon

The same production team, Skydance, also worked on the this year's series Altered Carbon. If you weren't aware this is a science fiction thriller that launched on the platform back in February. 

Altered Carbon is a 'hard-hitting' adaptation of Richard K. Morgan's 2002 novel about a grim cyberpunk future where technology allows people to transfer their consciousness from one body to the next. That is if they have the money to do so.

As you can imagine this allows the very wealthy to effectively live forever and consolidate their wealth and power for centuries on end. It also means that murder victims have a means to actually testify against their murderers and people can even 'travel' to distant worlds. 

The first season comprises of ten episodes and was recently greenlit for a second season of eight episodes. The show was one of a number of dramas ordered in short order by Netflix, which had committed to spending $5 billion on original content.

Altered Carbon is packed full of 'Silverscreen grade' special effects and is, unsurprisingly, one of the most expensive television series' ever made. 

Skydance Television will now add Foundation to a collection of series' that includes Altered CarbonGrace and Frankie, Condor, Dietand and the upcoming Jack Ryan

Asimov's Foundation Series has some famous fans including Elon Musk

This is probably no surprise but it's interesting just how much influence they appear to have had on Elon Musk. He recently included a copy of the novels onboard the Tesla Roadster that he blasted into space earlier this year.

If that's not enough evidence to show you how highly Elon Musk values the books, he made his feelings very clear a few years ago. Back in December of 2014, he tweeted about his love for the series. 

He also made it clear that he thought the Foundation book was "one of the best books" he had ever read. In another interview with the Guardian, he recalled how the series is actually a futuristic version of the Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 

He, and many other fans of the series, quickly realized that the message of the book that all civilizations ultimately fall apart will eventually happen to our own. 

"The lessons of history would suggest that civilizations move in cycles," Musk said, in the same interview. "You can track that back quite far — the Babylonians, the Sumerians, followed by the Egyptians, the Romans, China. We're obviously in a very upward cycle right now and hopefully, that remains the case. But it may not. There could be some series of events that cause that technology level to decline."

Isaac Asimov Elon Musk
Source: Heisenberg Media/Flickr

For this reason, in part, Musk was inspired to create SpaceX in an attempt to alleviate the suffering that is bound to occur once this happens. He believes mankind must become interplanetary if we are to survive as a species in the long run.

"Given that this is the first time in 4.5 billion years where it's been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth," he said, "it seems like we'd be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time."

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