Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

SO THAT HAPPENED: The Post About the TV Deal

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.

40 comments on “SO THAT HAPPENED: The Post About the TV Deal

  1. NJ says:

    So (a) assuming it gets picked up and (b) assuming it gets more than one season, what is the plan to incorporate the later books in the series? Do it like Game of Thrones, with 1 book/tv season? Or stretch out the Brakebills years into multiple school years?

  2. Aerik says:

    It might be too early for this question, but do you think the show will be able to do justice to the story on a network TV budget?

    It seems like doing the whole Brakebills thing, and then uprooting the whole show to the top-to-bottom magical world of Fillory, with interludes and such back on Earth and the Neitherlands… won’t that be expensive?

    Vague question, sorry. 🙂 Reassure me, Lev! I don’t want Fillory populated with LARPers and furries.

  3. K. M. Walton says:

    If Fox lavishes your show with as much money as the TERRA NOVA series, then it’ll be fantastic.

    I know I already congratulated you on twitter, but seriously, this is a pretty huge deal, so CONGRATULATIONS. Again.

  4. Adrian Storm says:

    I loved the book more than I thought a grownup could, and so I’m deeply apprehensive about this. It feels a bit like learning that a dear old friend is going off to fight in a war.

    That’s not a question, I guess. Um, who would you want to star in this thing?

  5. Pandorozbox says:

    Without question a series/show would be far better then a movie. There’s not enough time in a movie to do the Magician’s book/books justice, not to mention justice for the viewing audience. I think a series would be great GREAT GREAT….
    oh and PS: I love the fern by the chair, excellent call

  6. Jaimie says:

    God that was creepy. Whenever Lev Grossman talked I braced myself.

    I’m very excited to see this happen. I can’t imagine how awesome you must feel. (Awesome enough to feel comfortable interviewing yourself.)

    Like Adrian, I’m kind of skeptical about it though. I’m not a big fan of network TV, although House (the first 4 seasons) and Firefly were pretty great.

  7. Church says:

    The heck with The Magicians, I want to see this interview show.

  8. Ben says:

    Congratulations! I can’t wait for this to be on television and capture the hearts of millions.

    Does it make you nervous at all to be working with Fox (the network), given their track record of cancelling beloved genre shows way too soon and leaving fanboys weeping in their cereal? (Firefly, Dollhouse, Wonderfalls, The Tick, Sarah Connor Chronicles, etc.)

  9. Ian Holmes says:

    I like how the interviewer and interviewee exchanged souls midway through. Did you put that in just to test us? WHAT’S YOUR HOME ADDRESS

    Oh, and btw, this is very cool. Are you sure an hour will be enough? And, one more question: WILL YOU ACCEPT THIS LOVE GIFT OF HUMAN SKIN

  10. James says:

    Fox (the network) has been more friendly to “genre” shows than any other network besides SyFy. No other network would greenlight or even consider making 2 seasons of shows like Dollhouse or Sarah Connor Chronicles. If anything bring on Fox is the best possible spot for a potential show like The Magicians to land.

  11. Hdk says:

    So why Fox? You do know they helped destroy Firefly and in some way Dollhouse? Why would this be any different? Wouldn’t have Hbo or maybe other cable company be a better deal? With Game of Thrones being a hit it should open more doors to fantasy series.

    I truly hope the series will be made, and that it will be great. Looking forward to it in either way.

  12. neilhell says:

    Just promise us if things go south with Fox, you won’t abruptly end the show with Quentin bashing his head against Bob’s mirrored reflection.

    Otherwise, congrats!

  13. M says:

    *points finger in your direction but not at you*
    i want you to know that i’ve been awake since 9 pm, and it’s 9 am
    so this comment will make damn good sense
    im pretty happy for you
    as happy as a numb face could be

    it’s good, this is good
    everybody’s good
    good thing i sent you that potential cast list that i randomly found on tumblr

    i think i’d like to meet hugh laurie, can london make that happen? he’s *snaps fingers* the type of guy that makes things happen no? *italian accent*

    also, i think it’s time you get an assistant….

    *wise crack*
    *thumb points at self*

    it’s gonna be raining soon….

    i gotta go *cracks back while standing up* multivitamins need to be eaten, while with supervision…

    (p.s. vancouver soon? )

  14. Leverus says:

    @NJ all too soon to tell. but I suspect it will be a lot looser than 1 book/season. For starters I’ll have to write faster

  15. Leverus says:

    @Aerik I’m confident about the budget issue. God knows I wasn’t thinking about this when I wrote it. But in terms of the magic, the spellcasting in the books isn’t constant. It’s not like Hogwarts, where there’s moving portraits all the time, an effects shot in every frame. It’s more low-frequency, high impact.

    As for the settings … I don’t know how they’ll do it. But someone must have a plan.

  16. Leverus says:

    @Adrian I don’t know! I’ve always said that a time-traveling 17-year-old Thora Birch would be my ideal Alice. Failing that, I hope they go for unknowns, at least for the Kids.

  17. Leverus says:

    @Ben All I can say is, Fox were the ones who really put up their hands and said, hell yes, we’re doing this. My experience has been good so far.

  18. Leverus says:

    @Ian No to all.

  19. Leverus says:

    @ neilhell it’s a deal

  20. Leverus says:

    @M go to bed! I’ll have Hugh give you a call. I’m in Vancouver next week, see you there.

  21. Cosgrove Watt says:

    “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.”

    Not to nitpick or anything (okay I’m nitpicking) but ever heard of Charmed? You know the one with the sexy witches. I bet there was some PG sex too!

  22. mf says:

    come on, is no one else the slightest bit, oh i dont know,apprehensive, that this will totally fuck up the awesome mental images that we have constructed in reading the books?
    that said, congratulations on the deal
    (please try not to mutilate my all time favorite fantasy characters,im begging here!)

  23. Little My says:

    @mf – I feel the same way, except not apprehensive. I am thrilled that Lev is getting this opportunity, and glad The Magicians is getting this exposure, and also certain that I won’t watch the show when it does come out. Result: Awesome mental images intact, no problem. You have the power. A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

  24. amybillingham says:

    @mf — i’m about 25% apprehensive and 75% super excited. apprehensive because what i really love about the book(s) is Lev’s writing style, descriptions, etc, and wonder how much of that will shine through. but mostly i’m staying optimistic that it will all come magically to life.

    @lev — reminds me a bit of your fanfic article; how do you feel about your characters and story taking on a new life with different creative people? or maybe i’m underestimating your role in the show? will you be writing? or consulting? are you the one filling in the nooks and crannies?

    i think it’s great that the story will have some room to breathe as a TV show, and will be curious to see how it’s paced. i can totally see the pilot episode ending with “I think we can all agree that was a Pass.”

    congrats again : )

  25. Raven says:

    I wonder what kind of audience they would try to target with such tv show. I mean I love both novels, they reminds me both of fantasy novels such as harry potter and of genX writer’s novels such as Douglas Coupland’s generation x and similar books, which are my two favorites kind of novels but each kind appeals to two very different kind of audience and if it’s easy for readers to go from one genre to another if think it’s more difficult for tv audience.

    Will they do something highschoolish and target the young? (in this case the recent failure of the remake of Skins in the u.s shows how difficult it is to do a teenage series involving sex and any kind of provocations, and The magicians is a bit like skins in a way) or will they do a adult tv show and in this case will grown up want to watch a show about teenagers and a magical universe like Narnia?

    I hope for the best and I think it can do a great show but I can see why it’s going to be a difficult project and in the end I hope the creators are not going to do something mediocre but follow yoda’s advice “do or don’t there is no try” (inconvinient, yeah, I know!)

  26. Julie Ball says:

    I’m not entirely sure I’m down with Thor, but X-Men First Class was fairly competently written. I’m not sure if either makes good prior art to a show like this. Reassurance?

  27. Jeff Post says:

    Big time congratulations, I’m currently tearing through the Magician King again. There are a lot of challenges getting a series on tv and keeping it there but I personally think the story/characters have more than enough legs and you’ve got talented people on the case. If I may speak for my demographic, (males who like fantasy/sci-fi – of which there are more than a few) my bet is we’ll eat this up like a medium rare Porterhouse. I love your books!

  28. Robert L. says:

    I’m happy to hear that the show options were picked up but I must agree with some of the previous posters in saying the HBO or one of the cable company’s may have done it more justice. Seeing how successfully they were able to bring The Southern Vampire series (True Blood) and A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) to life, I am left drooling at the idea of an HBO original series. Nevertheless, I am excited to see what FOX is able to do with it and wish you success. I’m sure you’re book sales will surge after a trailer is ready.

  29. Robert L. says:

    There hasn’t been news of a sequel yet has there?

  30. […] world of fantasy, and not a long-lived one, as it turns out.  But especially after hearing that a Magicians TV series was in the works, I was more than happy to dig into the series’ second installment: The Magician […]

  31. Benjamin Jungblut says:

    Wow! Congrats again! I can’t tell you how excited and hopeful I am for you and for the series. I’m sure that it will become a great TV show watched by millions. HELL! BILLIONS! I was wondering though since I am an aspiring actor myself, if they do accept unknowns and do open auditions are you going to post on here when and where?

  32. Leverus says:

    No idea yet. But whatever I find out I’ll post.

  33. Kemper says:

    I just hope that some Battlestar Galactica cast & crew work on this just so we can hear about the awkward moments that ensue….

  34. Thomas says:

    I hope it gets a movie and then a series based off the movies like Stargate SG1/Atlantis/SGU that way you can start writing the series as it take years for movies to finish and come out. I know it would be hard to ask for both a movie and a TV series. You definitely be well taken care of after that. Plus with TV there are always breaks. I wouldn’t want you to take the mature aspect out of the books for normal cable.

  35. television|hdtv…

    […]SO THAT HAPPENED: The Post About the TV Deal « Lev Grossman[…]…

  36. Ben Earle says:

    This is extremely awesome! I’m so happy that this is happening!

  37. […] (James Bond Novels), and some P.G. Wodehouse of all people. I’m also looking forward to the FOX TV Series based off The Magicians, which is currently in the works—this series could turn out to be quite […]

  38. Sal says:

    Is anyone gonna talk about the fact that Lev Grossman randomly posted a pic of Less Grossman? No? OK!

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