Judging by the number of deals made so far, networks and studios are clearly looking to authors for inspiration. ABC recently bought "My Life, Deleted," Scott Bolzan's memoir about living with permanent retrograde amnesia. Lionsgate (the studio behind "Mad Men") has optioned "Take a Shot! A Remarkable Story of Perseverance, Friendship and a Really Crazy Adventure," by the co-founders of Major League Lacrosse for a drama series that is being described as "Moneyball" meets "The Hangover." ABC is also developing "Finn & Sawyer," based on the Mark Twain characters (which are conveniently in the public domain and therefore free). According to the Hollywood Reporter, the title characters "re-meet as young men in their 20s and form an investigative firm in a bustling and steampunk New Orleans." (Hey, another procedural!)
HBO in particular has been serious about getting into the novelist business. Ayelet Waldman ("Love and Other Impossible Pursuits") and her husband, fellow novelist Michael Chabon, are working on a pilot. "HBO is like the Works Progress Administration for writers," she told the Huffington Post. "Just when publishing was getting so scary, HBO rode in to save the day. Everyone I talk to has a deal with them." Tom Perrotta is also adapting his recent novel "The Leftovers" for HBO.
The upside for authors is obvious, even beyond the cash payout that selling TV rights can afford. A bigger profile means more leverage and better opportunities — plus a big uptick in book sales. George R.R. Martin's medieval-tinged "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, adapted as "Game of Thrones" for HBO, has generated major ratings. The second season finale garnered more than 5 million viewers in June, and that popularity is reflected in book sales, according to Stuart Applebaum, Random House executive vice president of communications.
"It is a tremendous success story," Applebaum told me. "Over a six-month period, sales of all five of his books would be not a heck of a lot, typically a few thousand." During the first half of 2012, however — when Season 2 was airing — 4 million copies of Martin's books were sold in various forms — hardcover, paperback, audio and digital. (Season 3 debuts in March.)
Random House received no financial windfall from Martin's TV deal, aside from the bump in book sales. But the publishing house clearly saw Martin's path as one to emulate and recently established Random House Television. In a partnership with FremantleMedia (a large producer and distributor, primarily of reality and game shows such as "American Idol," "America's Got Talent" and "Family Feud") Random House will develop television projects — and now get a cut of the action.
"We want to extend opportunities for our authors," Applebaum said. "And it doesn't have to be based on a book they've written; it can just be something they're working on as a script. So instead of selling the rights (to someone else), we hope they'll sell it to the TV division so we can develop it with Fremantle. The idea is that our authors already have a collaborative relationship with Random House as a publisher. We want our authors to enter the scripted realm and be as successful as possible. We're here to look after their interests, so that they have a known ally with us that they might not with people they don't know. We want to act as a steward of their efforts in what can be a tricky and strange environment."
It is a savvy business move. Don't be surprised if more publishers follow suit. And don't be surprised if some of those books on your nightstand wind up on the TV schedule in the not-too-distant future.
Nina Metz covers TV, film and theater for the Tribune.