Last week it was announced — leaked really — that Fox has optioned the Magicians books to be an hour-long drama. You can read the details here.
I thought maybe I should answer some questions about that. Since it seems to raise a lot of them.
[Scene: the set of an imaginary talk show, w/ chairs and ferns.]
Lev Grossman: [clears throat, scooches forward in armchair] Tell me, Lev Grossman. We know the facts of the deal. But how do you feel about it?
Lev Grossman: Really great.
Lev Grossman: [scooches even further forward] How great?
Lev Grossman: Pretty amazingly great. I mean, look! TV deal! I’ve been talking to people in Hollywood for more than two years, ever since before The Magicians came out, and this is the culmination of all that. Hollywood works really differently from the books world, which I only barely understand as it is, and it took me a long time to get a feel for it. This is not the kind of deal where a book gets optioned right out of the gate. This was a lot of work. I went through three different agents. I talked to literally dozens of people — mostly producers, but also writers and directors. It never clicked. Either it didn’t feel right to them, or it didn’t feel right to me.
Not that I wasn’t eager to sell out. Believe me, I was. But it just wasn’t right.
Lev Grossman: [wipes away tear of fake pity] So what ended this horrible, horrible ordeal?
Lev Grossman: Mostly my last and best agent, who works at CAA, and a guy named Michael London. When I met with Michael this spring I instantly recognized him as a smart, good person, which he pretty much had to be given the cool stuff he’s done — Sideways, Milk, The Illusionist, etc. He’s also doing the show based on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I’d never met anybody else like him in the movie biz. What I did not know, but later found out, was that Michael is also the kind of person who gets shit done. Like he says he’s going to do things, then he goes away, and then later you find out that those things have actually been done. By him. This is a rare and amazing quality.
Lev Grossman: [chin in hand] Why do this as a TV show? Why not a movie? Why?
Lev Grossman: I actually think The Magicians would be a pretty excellent movie. But as it turns out most of the interest was from TV people, and I can see why. There’s a lot of plot in The Magicians, let alone The Magician King. There’s a lot of world to play around in. You kind of want to go slow, and explore all the nooks and crannies. Spread it out over a few seasons. In some ways it’s shaped more like a show than a movie.
Also I get the impression that a lot of movie people are crossing over into TV right now. Because TV is so good.
Lev Grossman: [waking up with a start] What? Leprechauns! Leprechauns! God, it was that dream again.
Lev Grossman: Are you … OK?
Lev Grossman: [pours glass of whisky from side table, slams it] Gimme a minute. Talk about that Michael London guy some more and how great he is or whatever.
Lev Grossman: OK, sure. So putting a TV show together turns out to be a bit like a scavenger hunt. You have to find a lot of different things: an agent, a producer, a writer to write the pilot, a studio to make it, and so on. So the television studio part of Fox (as distinct from the network) put up a hand and said, yeah, we’re into this, let’s do it. (They make House. They also made Firefly. Nuff said.) Then we talked to a few different writers, but the ones who really got it — who were really stoked and said, yeah, OK, we know how to take this book-shaped thing and make it into a TV-show-shaped thing — were Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz. They’re the guys who wrote Thor and X-Men: First Class. They’re also serious TV people — they worked on Fringe and Andromeda and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re smart, they get the genre, and they, like Michael London, get things done.
In short they’re the kind of people that Fox (Fox the network this time) listens to. I wasn’t in the room for the actual pitch. I didn’t have to be. I hear they blew the doors off the place.
Lev Grossman: So what happens next? Now that you’re all rich and stuff.
Lev Grossman: I’m not rich. No, but I mean, really not. I don’t know how it works in movies, but in TV the money starts very very small and then slowly escalates. You would be kind of disappointed and maybe even a little depressed at how little it costs to option a book for TV. I mean, it’s not nothing, but it’s very far from life-changing. If the show actually becomes a series and gets broadcast, then I start doing all right.
Lev Grossman: [frowning at his iPhone, on which he is playing Words with Friends] So is that going to happen? Is it going to be a real show or whatever?
Lev Grossman: It damn well ought to be. The kind of fantasy I write, and the kind that I like best — the Lewis/Rowling type, the clever character-driven stuff about people moving between mundane and magic worlds — has a huge audience that’s very well served by books, but there’s absoluetly nothing for that audience on TV. There’s epic fantasy, and there’s horror, but there’s nothing like Harry Potter or The Magicians. You’d think someone would have put it together and said, hey, people like to see other people cast spells, let’s do a TV show about it, and maybe put some sex in too. But it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s about to.
Lev Grossman: [pours another drink] I’ll drink to that.
Lev Grossman: I don’t even think that’s real whisky.
More questions? Ask in comments. Though I may not be able to answer all of them, either because I can’t talk about it, or more probably because I just don’t know.