Thursday, September 19, 2013

ABC's The Thirteen Set in a World Where the British Won the America Revolution

This has been a banner year for alternate history television projects. There are plans to adapt The Man in the High CastleJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, 11/22/63 and How Few Remain for the small screen. Those examples, however, are all based on books. No one, as far as I know, is working on an original idea.

Until now.

ABC will be running an alternate history show, called The Thirteen, where the American colonies lost the American Revolution. It will be a contemporary drama with Americans still fighting the British for freedom. Lionsgate TV and Allison Shearmur are the producers with Jim Agnew and Sean Keller are writing it (and they also wrote an upcoming Nicolas Cage film...groan).

So I have some issues with this premise. To start, the idea that Americans are still fighting for their independence seems implausible. Its not like the Scots still paint themselves blue, scream FREEDOM and attack any limey they see. No, they instead hold a referendum for independence. So after centuries of British rule following a failed rebellion, why are the Americans still fighting? How bad can the British be in this world? I fear we are going to be seeing British characters who have more in common with the villains from The Patriot than the OTL British who abolished slavery in 1833 (while it took Americans three and a half decades more and bloody civil war to end the practice).

And what about the rest of the world? Sean O'Neal of the AV Club asked, among other things, whether the rest of the British empire is still around. That made me wonder: why are the British trying to hold onto their American colonies well into the 21st century when they were willing to give increasing self-governance and eventual independence to their dominions, like Canada and Australia, in OTL? Are we going to see a British-wank with the Union flag covering the world?

Personally I am not that impressed by what I have learned so far about The Thirteen. With cable having such a renaissance lately, I would rather see a show like this on a smaller network that does not have the budget for anything flashy. Still not everyone is as pessimistic as me. Counterfactual historian Gavriel Rosenfeld feels the show could be a success if it is used as vehicle for some social commentary, much like The Two Georges was, but how likely will we see Sir Martin Luther King? I'm not sure I agree that a network like ABC will go that route, but one can hope.

That is pretty much all we know about the show. A ballsy concept, a lot of room to screw up, plenty of speculation and this blogger trying not to get to over excited.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. His new short story "Road Trip" can be found in Forbidden Future: A Time Travel Anthology. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. there was sliders episode were the gang found themselves in a British controlled America might work

  2. Yes, the premise, as you've described it, does rather suggest that the empire didn't evolve as it did in this time-line. If the American colonies were granted Dominion-status, as most similar colonies were, armed rebellion would be pretty unlikely. It's hard to imagine that such a solution wasn't implemented sometime during the intervening 200 years, if only to reduce the cost of running them. Americans didn't actually lack freedom any more than the British themselves did, just representation in the British Parliament (which most Britons didn't yet have either).

  3. One of the great works of alternate history: Robert Sobel's FOR WANT OF A NAIL (1973), subtitled "If Burgoyne had won at Saratoga."

    1. Good book, but would it work as a drama? Its a fake a history book. It is all world-building, little traditional narrative. Even if you used it as a background, you would still need to create a story and characters for the audience to care about and that could be where everything goes wrong.


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