As Genre Shows Go Mainstream, TV Execs Look to Novelists for the Next Hit

There’s more than one way to become a big time television writer. You can always become a big time novelist instead, and thereby get yourself invited into the TV club:

novelists-tvwritersby Sam Thielman

TV network options on books have exploded. Publishers Lunch, a trade that tracks book industry deals, lists an ever-increasing number of television options over the last few years, with 2013 setting the record and this year looking good. And with massive success stories like Game of Thrones ruling the roost on cable, a disproportionate number of those books are genre fiction.

Bill McGoldrick, head of programming for NBCUniversal’s Syfy network, says part of the appeal is the charge a reader gets from a good book with a thoroughly thought-out world. It captures your imagination, even if you’re using that imagination to figure out what your programming slate is going to look like. “The imagination behind the intellectual property, when you’re a producer or a writer or somebody sitting in my chair, fills out the world for you in a way that the script can’t,” he said. “You get behind the curtain in a way the script doesn’t allow you to do.”

McGoldrick is overseeing his network’s adaptation of The Magicians trilogy, a fantasy cycle by Time book critic and tech writer Lev Grossman that reads a little like Bright Lights, Big City meets The Chronicles of Narnia. Everybody’s looking for “the next Game of Thrones,” as you’ll hear often from execs.

An accounting of books in development for television these days reads like a laundry list of fan requests from Comic-Con. Diana Gabaldon’s Scottish time-travel series Outlander is getting the royal treatment on Starz (Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed American Gods is in the works there, too), CBS has Michael Ledwidge and James Patterson’s sci-fi novel Zoo, and BBC America will televise Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

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