Friday, September 14, 2012
From page to small screen
By Nina Metz
Networks, authors and even publishers increasingly capitalize on the popularity of titles and characters
Some of the biggest blockbuster movies in the last 10 years are based on books. (That means you, Harry Potter and “The Hunger Games”). But the annual television lineup has always included its share of book adaptations as well, dating back to at least the 1960s with “Peyton Place.”
Carl Beverly… an executive producer on “Justified,” the FX series that aired its third season earlier this year. Timothy Olyphant stars as Raylan Givens, a U.S. marshall patrolling the dusty crime enclaves of rural Kentucky. The role is based on a character created by Elmore Leonard, and the show is widely considered one of the more successful TV adaptations in recent memory.
In the case of “Justified,” Leonard has been hands-off. “When (show creator) Graham Yost sent me his script for the pilot episode (based on the short story “Fire in the Hole”), I thought it was great,” Leonard, 86, said from his home in Michigan. “I didn’t make any changes. Not one. And I was so surprised that, my God, it just moved. And everybody delivered their lines the way I heard them when I wrote the story.”
Previous attempts by others adapting his work to TV have been less successful, including the short-lived 2003 series “Karen Sisco.” According to Leonard: “They were having trouble with her character, who she was supposed to be, so they dropped the show. I don’t understand why they didn’t just stick to her as she was written in the book.”
Yost and company didn’t make that same mistake and have done an impressive job of channeling Leonard’s sensibility — both in dialogue and the creation of new characters. The show actually feels like an Elmore Leonard creation. “I’ve been very happy,” Leonard said. “I didn’t think I would be, because there are other writers writing it. Do they think they way I do? Do they see the characters the way I do? And they did!”
It was during Season 2 that Leonard wrote his most recent book “Raylan.” I asked if it was motivated by the TV show, which would likely have a positive effect on book sales. “I did think that, I admit,” he said. “And it was on The New York Times best-sellers list for five weeks — and I hadn’t had one right in the middle of the Times list in probably two or three books. So it worked out.”
Leonard is a commercially minded author, but not one to let it impede his creativity.
“I planned to use Raylan again in the book that I’m writing and planning — more planning than writing right now — and then I just got a little tired of it,” he said. “I thought, God, I’ve been dragging this poor guy along quite awhile. I think he’s been in three books already, and I can’t get any enthusiasm about him now. I think I’ll just drop him.”
This pleased his Hollywood agent as well; Sony owns the TV rights to the character, which would complicate any possible TV deals with other studios interested in buying the rights to future books featuring Raylan Givens. (Season 4 of “Justified” will air in early 2013.)