HBO’s Literary Pipeline

HBO’s Literary Pipeline


Last week, Neil Gaiman confirmed he’s writing a television pilot for HBO based on his novel American Gods. Here, a roundup of the other books the network is developing.


A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

The day after winning the 2011 National Book Award, Jennifer Egan’s postmodern, rock-and-roll novel was optioned by HBO. And turns out A Visit From the Goon Squad was inspired by the network’s favorite goon, Tony Soprano. “I was crazy about [The Sopranos] and I thought very hard about how it accrued its power,” Egan told the Web site PopEater. The book omits bodies dumped in swamps and large Italian meals, but there are plenty of sex, drugs, and strained family relations.


The Leftovers
Tom Perrota

The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel about those left on Earth after the Rapture, is long on action, mystery, and romance. So it’s no surprise Damon Lindelof, executive producer of the ABC series Lost, is co-writing the HBO pilot with Perrotta (whose books Election and Little Children were both turned into major motion pictures). “This long-form, hour-long drama is the most exciting stuff in American pop culture right now,” the author told The New York Times in 2011. “A TV series allows you to explore everything, to focus in when you need to focus in and to sprawl when you need to sprawl.”


I Was Told There’d Be Cake
Sloane Crosley

Lena Dunham’s Girls is great and all, but what happened to I Was Told There’d Be Cake? It’s been four years since HBO optioned Sloane Crosley’s hilarious essay collection about the trials and tribulations—and one-night stands—of a striving New York twenty-something. As of 2010, the project was still alive. “I am the sole/head writer for now…It’s going quite well,” Crosley told The Paris Review. “It could die on the vine at any minute and I have no illusions about that, but writing dialogue suits me.” Not surprising, given her response to the question of whom she’d cast as herself: “Elliott Gould in a wig.”


American Gods
Nail Gaiman

Of all the books HBO has put into development recently, Neil Gaiman’s 2001 fantasy novel American Gods seemingly has the best odds of making it to the small screen. It was both a critical and commercial success, winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Bram Stoker awards and selling a million copies; fantasy series Game of Thrones and True Blood have paid off big for the network; and it’s being produced by Tom Hanks, who’s also behind the HBO hits Big Love, Band of Brothers, and John Adams. Just last week, Gaiman confirmed he was busy writing the pilot.


Berlin Noir: March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A…
Phillip Kerr

Hanks and HBO have also partnered to develop a series based on Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy of mystery novels—the first three of Kerr’s eight books set in the German capital during the 1930s and featuring sardonic, chain-smoking, womanizing private investigator Bernie Gunther. The author is happy to have his work produced for TV instead of the Cineplex. “Lately, I think film has come to reveal its ‘feet of clay’ creatively,” he told The Economist in September. “The best stuff is now being done on television. I think the context of an hour-long drama gives breathing space that you don’t get in a film. Film has to work in such a short period of time and these books are very atmospheric.”


The Viagra Diaries
Barbara Rose Brooker

HBO reaffirmed its risk-taking reputation when it optioned Barbara Rose Brooker’s self-published hit about a 65-year-old divorcée’s re-entry into the dating pool. (As another studio responded to the project, “No one will watch a 70-year-old woman having sex.”) Although lead actress Goldie Hawn backed out earlier this year, development—under the guidance of Sex and the City executive producer Darren Star—is reportedly still going forward.


The Gunslinger
Stephen King

The adaptation woes of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is almost as tough to follow as the plot of the eight-book, 4,250-page, J. R. R. Tolkien-meets-Sergio Leone saga which King wrote over the course of 30 years (and which has sold 30 million copies combined). First, Javier Bardem was set to star as main character Roland “The Gunslinger” Deschain in not one film but three—plus two TV mini-series!—directed by Ron Howard and co-produced by King. When that fell apart, the project was picked up by another studio, with Russell Crowe attached as the lead, but it too came to nothing. As of this August, yet another production company was “in serious talks” to back the project. King fans can only hope—to quote one of his other book titles—everything’s eventual.


Prospect Park West
Amy Sohn

Before her career as a novelist took off, Amy Sohn wrote the companion books to HBO’s hit series Sex and the City. It’s fitting, then, that SATC star Sarah Jessica Parker optioned Sohn’s 2009 satire about the travails of four well-to-do young mothers in brownstone Brooklyn.


The Madonnas of Echo Park
Brando Skyhorse

Winner of both the PEN/Hemingway Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, Brando Skyhorse’s 2010 novel The Madonnas of Echo Park details the intersecting and volatile lives of a diverse Los Angeles neighborhood. The pilot is being written by Julia Cho, a playwright whose previous TV credits include HBO’s Big Love. “I loved the book,” she told magazine KoreAm. “It was one of those things where I picked it up and I couldn’t put it down.”


The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
Corrine May Botz

Who would look at a photography monograph featuring miniature diorama crime scenes and think “HBO series”? Guillermo del Toro, naturally. The famed horror director is executive producing a proposed HBO series based on Corinne May Botz’s 2004 analysis of pioneering criminologist Frances Glessner Lee’s dollhouse-sized murder re-enactments, or “nutshell studies.” Bestselling mystery novelist Sara Gran will script the series, about a 1950s housewife-turned-sleuth.


Sara Gran

Nutshell Studies isn’t the only HBO project involving Sara Gran. Her 2006 novel Dope—which follows a former prostitute, now private eye in 1950s Manhattan—is being developed by director Todd Haynes, with actress Julianne Moore a likely candidate for the lead role. (If greenlit, it would be Haynes’ second literary adaptation for HBO: he also directed the 2011 Emmy-winning mini-series Mildred Pierce.)


The Art of Fielding
Chad Harbach

For his 2011 debut novel about a college baseball player in existential crisis, 35-year-old Chad Harbach snagged a $650,000 advance, blurbs from John Irving and Jonathan Franzen, and the admiration of super-producer Scott Rudin, who optioned the book for HBO a month before it hit stores. However, Rudin’s recent decision to sever his exclusive development deal with the network would appear to lessen Fielding’s chances of sliding safely into TV viewers’ homes.


Skinny Dip
Carl Hiasson

Carl Hiaasen’s more than a dozen Florida-set, black-comedy noir novels have collectively sold well over two million copies. So it’s hard to believe only one—1993’s Striptease—has been adapted for TV or film. That number could soon double thanks to HBO’s optioning of Hiaasen’s 2004 novel Skinny Dip, about a wife looking to payback the husband who tried to bump her off. While there are no casting details, actor Michael Keaton is serving as an executive producer.


I Don’t Care About Your Band
Julie Klausner

Dating stories don’t get more horrific—or hilarious—than those in comedian and popular podcast host Julie Klausner’s 2010 tell-all I Don’t Care About Your Band. The book was optioned for HBO by Will Ferrell’s production company—also responsible for the HBO series Eastbound & Down—with actress Lizzy Caplan attached to star.


Mary Karr

In 2007, HBO produced the acclaimed documentary series The Addiction Project. In 2011, the network looked to give substance abuse the fictional treatment, optioning Mary Karr’s bestselling alcoholism memoir Lit. Last month, Karr announced that the show is in turnaround but that she is working on another series for Showtime.


I, Claudius
Robert Graves

Break out your toga: HBO is partnering with the BBC on I, Claudius, Robert Graves’ 1934 faux autobiography of the Roman emperor. They can only hope it’s as big a hit as the BBC’s 1976 mini-series version, which brought fame to actors Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, and John Hurt and was included in Time magazine’s 2007 “All-Time 100 TV Shows” list.


Karen Russell

Attention alligator wranglers: HBO could be hiring, if Karen Russell’s 2011 novel about a family who runs a gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades gets greenlit. Russell isn’t working on the Swamplandia! pilot, nor does she want to. “I feel like everything I don’t do as a writer is what is required to write a good screenplay,” she told the Web site The Awl. “I prefer to write a three-paragraph extended metaphor about foliage, and that probably wouldn’t film well. We obviously can’t just hold the camera steady on a hibiscus while the actors talk.”


Jeffrey Eugenides

Who do you hire to adapt a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? Another Pulitzer Prize winner, of course. Donald Margulies—winner of a Pulitzer in 2000 for his play Dinner With Friends, itself made into an HBO telefilm—has already penned several installments of a mini-series based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ epic 2002 saga of Greek-American hermaphrodite Calliope (or “Cal”) Stephanides. But as Middlesex’s setting ranges from Smyrna in Asia Minor to modern Berlin, with a decades-long stop in Detroit, production costs could prove prohibitive.


Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

Missing the royal intrigue, beheadings, and bodice-ripping of Showtime’s cancelled series The Tudors? Not to worry: HBO—co-producing with the BBC—is developing Hilary Mantel’s much-garlanded historical novel Wolf Hall. Winner of both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2009 book chronicles complicated, calculating minister Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the court of British monarch Henry VIII. Though we’ve seen Cromwell onscreen many times before—in two film adaptations of the play A Man For All Seasons as well as in The Tudors—Mantel’s incarnation has more dimension and is less baldly villainous.


Selected Short Stories
William Faulkner

Racial tension, brutal violence, and lots of drinking and brothel-going: this could describe both David Milch’s Deadwood, South Dakota and William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. So it made perfect sense when last year Milch—creator of the HBO series Deadwood, John from Cincinnati, and Luck—optioned 19 novels and 125 short stories by the 1949 Nobel Prize winner in literature. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Milch admitted his favorite Faulkner work is Absalom, Absalom! but that he hadn’t decided which he’ll develop first. (Faulkner himself adapted a few of his short stories for TV in the early 1950s, but he didn’t think much of the medium. “It is a matter of compromise…with the actor, with the director, and mainly with the people that put up the money,” he once said in a University of Virginia lecture. “It’s so expensive, a TV show…I never took working for any of them seriously. It was just a pleasant way to get a check every Saturday night.”)

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.







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