Novelists and cable television

[The New York Times]

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, I’ve got an essay about how more and more novelists are selling the rights to their work to cable networks — and in many cases, even helping adapt that work, as well. Since many of the projects I mentioned remain in the pilot stage (and since the odds that a pilot makes it to air remain terrible), it was tough to get interviews. But I did talk at length with Jonathan Ames, a novelist who’s already adapted his work into a show, Bored to Death, that just finished its third season. Ames made for a great interview — a metaphor machine who balanced deep knowledge with deep-ish pessimism. Below are some interesting quotations I couldn’t fit into the essay.”

On a TV show’s financial benefits: “I got paid much more for the show’s pilot script, which took me six days to write, than I’d ever gotten for any of my novels. The economy of scale is just absurd.”

On a TV show’s collaboration: “HBO was very kind to me — they gave me a learner’s permit. . . . I don’t have much time to sit on a script before I turn it over to other people. It’s a very vulnerable moment. It forces you to be imperfect in front of other people. I need all these people to be, in a sense, editors. Sometimes it’s difficult. But most of the time everyone makes it better.”

On the value of TV versus literature: “In all the media, my goal is to entertain and amuse — to, for a moment, give someone some relief, perhaps, and to make someone feel less alone. . . . There are certain things I smuggle into the show,  things that you might not find in a typical comedy. I want there to be some gravitas, some sorrow and despair — for a moment, it’s not clearly just a joke, and that feels more in the realm of what I can do in my novels and my nonfiction. But prose makes it much easier to toggle back and forth from lightness and darkness.”

On returning to writing: “Over the course of writing the show, I’ve written a handful of essays. I’ve kept my hand in prose. But I’d like to return to books, if I’m lucky enough to be able to. I can imagine a future critic saying, ‘Ames has clearly been writing for TV.'”

About Craig Fehrman

Craig Fehrman is a Ph.D. student in Yale’s English department and a freelance writer. He's working on a book about presidents and their books [more] . . .
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