Everything you want to know about the process of adapting YA novel THE MAGICIANS for TV. And, considering the great revews this show has gotten, y’all need to know it:
by Sarah Mesle
HOW IS WRITING a book different than writing a TV show? How is reading a book different than watching TV? It’s a commonplace now that the current moment is not only a golden era of TV, but also a golden era of television criticism. But how does the making of TV align with the discussion of it — and what should critics know about the medium they discuss?
Sarah Mesle, LARB’s Senior Humanities Editor and a writer for LARB’s “Dear Television” column, recently sat down with Emmy-nominated TV writer Henry Alonso Myers to discuss exactly these questions. Myers, who has previously worked on shows such as Ugly Betty, Covert Affairs, and Charmed, is a writer and Executive Producer for SyFy’s new show, The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s critically-acclaimed 2009 novel of the same name. Grossman’s novel famously crosses the bounds of literary and genre fiction, telling the story of Quentin Coldwater, a young man in contemporary New York who suddenly discovers that magic is real. As Meyer discusses, the novel, lauded for both its riveting story and its sophisticated prose, posed both opportunities and challenges for adaptation.
SARAH MESLE: Henry! I’m excited to talk about two things. First, as someone who writes about TV but doesn’t know a lot about how TV is made, I’m interested in what you, as a maker of TV, think I should know. And secondly, I’m interested in using The Magicians as a gateway into that larger topic, specifically around the process of converting a book to television. As a literary critic I obviously have thoughts about how stories work, but I think my vocabulary and conceptual framework for describing that process is likely very different from yours.
HENRY ALONSO MEYERS: Well, as a literary critic, you’re probably used to thinking about a book or a story as a single entity. And television is a collaborative medium, where you’re working with a lot of different people who are making a lot of different things.
So for instance The Magicians was developed for television by John McNamara and Sera Gamble, and they do everything in conjunction with Grossman, which is unusual —
Stop right there! “Developed for television” — I know roughly what that means, but what exactly does that mean?
The title “developed for television” just means that they took the property — the book — and made it into television.
And therein lies all the questions! Before we get to the specific structure, let’s start more generally. Do you have a specific maxim or principle that helps explain the difference between the two media? A book is this, while a TV show is that? When you read The Magicians did you think about it as being a potentially great television show?
I think a TV show probably has more specific requirements. A book gets to be a lot of different things, whereas a TV show has a lot of very specific expectations. Our show, for instance, is on advertisement-supported cable, so we write around ad breaks and commercials — commercials structure our drama, and our viewers’ expectations of how the drama will work….