More on the Redshirts TV Series

I realize that yesterday’s announcement of the Redshirts TV series was a little light on the details on my end — I was literally about to walk out the door for the day when I saw it — so for those of you who were craving additional detail, here you are, in a handy Q & A form.

Dude, did you know?

Yes, and yes, someone did actually ask me this, although to be fair I think it was more of the excitement of the moment than actual cluelessness.

To expand on that answer, yes, I did know, because it’s my book and nothing regarding my intellectual property gets done (legally, anyway) without my consent. I was caught a little by surprise by the specific timing of the announcement, but I knew the announcement was coming.

Why didn’t you let us know?

Because part of the deal with signing for a TV series is that you keep quiet until the official announcement. Also, you know. You don’t want to announce something before all the “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed. And that takes a bit of time. And also patience, which I am not good at, but oh, well.

How long has this been going on?

There’s been interest in Redshirts pretty much from the moment it dropped. I remember being on tour, landing in LA and getting three e-mails in rapid sequence, one from my editor telling me we hit the NY Times hardcover bestseller list, one from a producer telling me he wanted a meeting, and another from my film/tv agent telling me I need to call him immediately. So that was nice. We spent a lot of time fielding offers on this one.

This particular deal got into high gear after Redshirts won the Hugo. After that happened, in relatively quick order (for Hollywood) Jon Shestack and Ken Kwapis put together a package and pitched it to FX, who took it on. And then came the Great Contractual Negotiation Period, which in Hollywood can last for some time, out of which we are now just emerging.

(This is, incidentally, a useful data point for people who argue whether or not winning a Hugo means anything outside the SF/F nerd tribe; in this case, yes, it really did. I expect this will start another round of gnashing and fuming and wailing about the award.)

How do you feel about the others involved in the deal?

I feel very good about them. I’ve known Jon Shestack for some time; he’s been a fan of my work for years, which is a positive thing when it comes to adapting a book for the screen. Among everything else Ken Kwapis has done, he directed the finale of The Office, and has likewise directed episodes of Parks and Recreation, Malcolm in the Middle, Freaks and Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show. He gets how humor works on television. And FX — well, they’ve been on a roll recently, haven’t they, with their shows? There’s nothing here I don’t like.

(There is one other principal involved: Alexandra Beattie, who is Ken Kwapis’ producing partner, and who I know little about other than her imdb page. However I have no doubt she is awesome.)

One of the reasons these things take time is that there is no point doing a deal just to do a deal; you want to have people working on it that you think can do justice to the material and who can actually get it out to the world. This is a good team. I’m happy to hand my work over to them and work to get it on screen.

How involved will you be with the series?

I’ll be an executive producer and consultant for the series, which means I will be involved to a fair degree. More than that I can’t say, not to be mysterious about it but because these are early days and we still have a lot to figure out, not the least of which is what my schedule is going to be for the rest of 2014. I have a book to write in there somewhere, you know.

Are you going to move to LA, sleep with starlets and get hooked on blow? 

The answer to all the above is “probably not.” Depending on my level of involvement I may eventually spend more time in LA than I do, but have no plans to move on a permanent basis. I’m a little old and set in my ways to start doing cocaine. And regardless of any personal desire to sleep with starlets (which is pretty low in any event), I don’t imagine any starlets will wish to sleep with me. That’s fair.

When will this make it to TV?

Dunno. We have a lot to do, including finding writers, producing a script FX likes, and so on. Having a deal in place doesn’t mean you’re on screen in a flash. I’d like to think it will take the time it takes to get it right.

Are you worried they are going to ruin the book?

No. The book is done and won’t change, for better or worse. The TV series will be an adaptation of the book, and will follow the book to a greater or lesser extent depending on the needs of the series. You should right now get used to the idea that the series will not exactly mirror the book.

Also, keep in your mind that changes that might happen won’t automatically suck. TV is a different medium than novels; each have advantages and disadvantages. We’re going to make a version of Redshirts for television that (hopefully) takes maximum advantage of the medium’s potential.

Hey, you should cast [insert name here]!

We’re not at casting yet. Be assured I have my own wish list for people to be in the show, which I will communicate to the others involved. There’s no guarantee people on my wish list will make it into the show, however, for all sorts of various reasons (they may not be available. They may not want to be involved. They may be attacked by an ice shark between now and then. Etc).

I will totally sleep with you to be involved in this series.

Thanks! I’m taken. And, yeah. Not the way I do things, I gotta say.

How do I get involved with this series, not involving sleeping with you?

If you’re a writer? I suppose you would have your people get in touch with Kwapis/Beattie’s people. Everyone else: Wait, I think. They’ll cast/staff as appropriate to whatever stage we’re at.

I should note that I am not at this point (or, really, likely in the future to be) responsible for any staffing decisions. So trying to butter me up or work through me on this is not likely to have the result you want, and will probably eventually annoy me.

Did you make piles of money off your deal?

(Yes, people ask.)

I’m happy with the deal financially, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed it. Beyond that I’m going to keep mum about the details, if you don’t mind (and even if you do). I will say that as with most deals involving Hollywood, the real payday is on the backend. So let’s hope it gets done.

I think Redshirts was awful and you don’t deserve this.

Ha! Sucks to be you, then.

That’s great about Redshirts, but don’t you also have a deal in Hollywood for Old Man’s War? What’s up with that?

Patience.

Finally: Thank you, everyone, for all your congratulations and good wishes yesterday and today. I’m really happy about this. And I’m glad you all seem to be happy about it too.

43 thoughts on “More on the Redshirts TV Series

  1. One thing I’m unclear on… is this a strictly limited miniseries adaptation of the book (i.e. likely to include the conclusion and coda, and then be over)? Or is this a potential continuing series, where, if it’s popular, it’ll go beyond the book into seasons two and three and whatever?

  2. There’s an old joke about the aspiring starlet who decides to sleep her way to stardom, but she’s so dumb she sleeps with writers.

  3. If you don’t demand that Nathan Fillion be involved we’re done professionally. We can still be besties though. #emptythreats

  4. Congratulations, Mr. Scalzi! It will be rather interesting to see this transition from book to screen. I am most interested to see how the codas are handled, as their tone is a little different from the tone of the rest of the book.

    On an aside, I don’t have a wish list of cast / crew, but you should totally dedicate the series to Gene Roddenberry!

  5. Marshall Ryan Maresca:

    Heh. I don’t think I am.

    pmbAustin:

    At this point the plan is the limited series. We’ll figure out anything else when/if it becomes an issue.

  6. Perhaps if Redshirts is highly successful they could do Season Two with a new story, setting and characters. They could even give it a different name, say, Fuzzy Nation.

  7. Here’s to hoping that Red Shirts will become an infection vector that brings more of your works to the screen. Not that the Old Man’s War books need to be made in other media, but it might be fun to see in exactly what way the Obin resemble a cross between a spider and a giraffe.

  8. Congrats! As far as convincing people that tv is not a book…well, good luck. That’ll keep you occupied forever. If it’s not word-for-word right out of the book, the characters don’t match the reader’s imaginary expectations, or any little, minor detail isn’t up to their snuff, they seem to complain and whine non-stop about how they “ruined the book”.

  9. Congratulations. Hope it comes together and if it does, it doesn’t suck. Because, you know, that can happen, and does. Often. But, still, could be a lotta fun.

  10. Bruce E. No, I had to look it up. The joke is a lot older than that.

    Apologies for the sexism, by the way. There are probably aspiring male actors who are just as dumb, but would have fewer opportunities.

  11. The question about ruining the book and your answer thereto reminds me of what I read in my college’s alumni magazine was James Michener’s reaction (it was his college too) to people saying that thus-and-such an adaptation had ruined his book: he would give whoever it was a look of abject horror and rush to the appropriate bookshelf (presumably this was just at home–or maybe at signings in bookstores?). Grabbing the book, he would leaf through it frantically. After sighing with relief upon finding the book unchanged, he would return it to the shelf and himself to the conversation.

  12. This is exciting. I have loved Redshirts ever since you read the prolog to audiences on your book tour a few years ago. I like the idea of Will Wheaton in there somewhere. Also Jim Parsons.

  13. I like the idea of Wil Wheaton playing a character who’s been on a starship longer than anyone else and is looking for redemption, which would make him playing the tragic-backstory Jenkins the obvious choice.

    Danny Pudi as Andrew Dahl (the character self-aware enough to recognize meta-ness, and its dangers).

    Nathan Fillion as Captain Abernathy seems like a perfect fit. Change the 1st officer Q’eeng to female and have Gina Torres play it.

    All four of those (depending on Nathan Fillion’s Castle schedule, and what happens with Community) would be available. I’d love to see Neil Patrick Harris as Kerensky, but *that* would be difficult bc he’s very, very busy.

    To round it out, Felicia Day as Maia Duvall. Adam Baldwin as Finn. (Alternate: You could swap Finn’s gender and have Eliza Dushku do it, bc otherwise all your leads but one are male.)

  14. I’m very excited about what they’ll come up with, but I’m also concerned how the particular mood of the story will be captured. Redshirts is very funny, but if all you go for is AIRPLANE style wink-wink-nudge-nudge, then it misses the point. This particular target of meta-fiction/homage/commentary is very hard to hit.

    Still, eagerly awaiting.

  15. The casting choices that a few people are making are interesting. It’s important to realize that although FX is a great network in a lot of ways, the chances of them springing for the type of casting being asked for is unlikely given the genre and potential market.

    Nathan Fillion, for example, “probably” commands upwards of $200k an episode for Castle. Plus he’s doing big-budget Hollywood movies, making most likely seven-figure salaries for that work.

    Neil Patrick Harris, likewise, is ending a run on a highly rated sitcom, and has many other pursuits. He most likely commands upwards of $200k an episode as well (and those are 30-minute episodes).

    Jim Parsons, who was reportedly earning $325k an episode for Big Bang Theory, reportedly renewed in the $1 million an episode range.

    A major, major, major pilot costs between $3 and $5 million. Game of Thrones, for example, reportedly cost $5 million for a pilot, a colossal sum.

    It’s really hard to get these numbers, and because of how the world works, calculating cost for 1 episode of a show that makes it to air is not easy, but it’s safe to assume that a decent pilot is going to cost at least $1 million.

    JS, feel free to call me retarded or whatever choice words you have. But, even if that number is COMPLETELY wrong..

    ..the bottom line is that any really big names that are well known would have:

    1. Really want to do the show

    2. Really want to do the show on favorable, or extremely favorable, or massively favorable terms because of some personal reason (i.e. they are a fan, they want the exposure, whatever).

    3. Be available.

    It could be that FX signs up to bring on a production company with the resources to put together a huge ensemble cast, with a big ticket budget, plus spend the money on the sets and effects needed for a space show done first rate. But it may be premature to assume that this is the case…

  16. Xoper–

    Jay Baruchel is already signed up for another FX pilot. If that show sticks, he’s probably not available. If it doesn’t stick, it would be fairly unusual to have an actor signed up for back-to-back pilots for the same production company or network.

  17. @dpmaine: If this is a miniseries to be aired during the summer, many of the stars you list could be available while their current shows are on summer hiatus, depending on TV show exclusivity in their contracts. Nothing says when this series would air, although judging from the comment about Scalzi’s availability during the year, I would assume that they’d like to air it this summer or fall. I don’t know what sort of turnaround would be for special effects, so it’s possible they could film during network TV summer hiatus with a bunch of big name stars, complete the special effects editing, and air it later in the year.

  18. Congratulations. Redshirts has to be my favorite science fiction novel of all time. I’m actually going to get cable again just so I can watch the series, then cancel it until football season.

  19. Good on you, John. I think this is a great thing and moreso than most of your work, a perfect match with television. It is, after all, baked right in to the central idea. What is even greater is that they could do part of the show on the super-cheap intentionally, to make it look just right for the purposes of parody. Or not, that would work, too.

    I think the idea could have significant legs, depending on how it’s developed. It’s possible they alter the entire concept, but I can see that as a big win if they make smart choices. And ti’s clear that smart people have their hands on it.

  20. Wonderful! Love it bought your signed copy when you were at Vroman’s

    Whenever I did a live interview on national network tv, people would phone me the next day and ask” “Did you know you were on TV.

    Of course not. They break into my home, drug me, have me on camera, then hypnotize me to forget.

  21. Bruce–

    That’s true. That is also the time (i.e. the off season) that actors do their other projects, namely, movies.

    Scheduling is a huge problem for big-name actors and actresses. It is even a problem for the second and third their names that you would think are fairly available. A large part of the job of an agency is scheduling as much work as their talent wants to take on. The more in demand their talent is, the easier their job becomes until the point when there so much interest they have problems getting downtime.

  22. Congratulations, sir! I will happily watch this show when it comes out. I’m looking forward to it, and, I’ll say again, the OMW movie… :)

  23. “as with most deals involving Hollywood, the real payday is on the backend.”
    That’s what John said.

    May I have this saying printed on a Tshirt, to wear at an upcoming fez laden #sexparty?

  24. The Redshirts FAQs really made this tired technical writer’s day! Thanks!

    Congratulations on the series deal! Looking forward to seeing the series.

  25. Congratulations!

    While I think all of the suggested cast members would do a great job on “Redshirts,” it might be distracting (to me, if not to anyone else) if the majority of the lead/supporting roles were filled by well-known actors who are loved by those of us in the geeky community.

    Having said that, surely there must be a suitable role for Katee Sackhoff or Tricia Helfer in there somewhere!

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