There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying used to go, and there is more than one way to adapt a book or comic for film, theatre, musical or TV. The modern vogue may be for adaptations being “accurate” and “faithful” to their sources, but the fact of the matter is, there are always some who will treat the originals as gospel and decry any attempt in any other medium, while others will appreciate the efforts made. We at CTVT have seen a LOT of adaptations over the years, and recognise that (a) accuracy and faithfulness are often PR-speak to get fans on board, and (b) an episodic hourlong drama series does not work the same way as a novel does, even though a novelistic experience can be created in television (Crime Story S1 or Wiseguy being brilliant examples from the 80s).
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, if you’re a fan of the hugely entertaining King & Maxwell series of thrillers from best-selling author and philanthropist David Baldacci, you’re either going to love the TV version starting tonight on Alibi, and which aired last year on TNT in the U.S. – or you’re going to return to your books muttering unprintable things under your breath. We like it, because they’ve taken the most important part of the book – the lead characters – and cast them well; we could watch Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn trade insults and insights every week with ease, whatever the case they’re on. We also like a show that finds regular place for actors like Ryan Hurst, Dichen Lachman, Michael O’Keefe and Chris Butler as allies on either side of the law. Finally we like that we’re going to see some elements of at least the first book used as an ongoing arc across the series.
It reminds of us of 80s shows like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Spenser: For Hire, classic P.I. shows which we remember fondly as ways of taking great characters from a series of books and making them work in the world of weekly television. Don’t take our word for it though; here’s what King & Maxwell creator David Baldacci had to say himself when we asked him about the show.
Cult TV Times: For you as a full-time author and philanthropist, what did being a consulting producer mean in practical terms? Was it all development work, or did you get to go on set as well?
David Baldacci: While I was invited to the set, I was involved in another film project at the time and could not get there. I looked at the audition reels during casting, read through the scripts and provided input, and watched early versions of each episode and commented where I thought appropriate. And the producers would contact me from time to time with queries about the characters or plot.
CTVT: Your work has been famously adapted for the big screen before. How different did you find the process of adaptation for serial television? What excited you most about this particular project?
David Baldacci: The people involved excited me greatly. Shane Brennan has been fabulously successful in TV with his two hit series, NCIS and NCIS: LA. Plus he shared my vision for the characters and the series. Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn were wonderfully cast and how could you not love Ryan Hurst as Edgar Roy? Producing episodic TV is brutally hard work where you’re competing with difficult deadlines. But they made it all work.
CTVT: The casting, for those of us who have read the books, seems pretty solid; Jon Tenney looks and sounds just right in the promos we’ve seen as Sean, and while nitpickers might moan about Rebecca Romijn being blonde instead of dark-haired, frankly that’s irrelevant given her great track record playing strong, athletic no-nonsense women on film and TV. As the author, what was your take on their performances? Will it/is it already tinting your writing of their characters, as other authors have found sometimes before?
David Baldacci: I found images of Jon and Rebecca entering my head as I was writing the latest King & Maxwell novel. That had never happened before and it was an interesting experience, particularly since I had my own idea of what the characters should look like. But Jon and Rebecca were so close to my vision that it worked out fine and caused not a single migraine!
CTVT: From the promos it looks like we’re can expect some of the plot of the first novel to be touched upon in the show. Will that be simply flashback material, or will it contribute to a longer arc across the series as a whole? Can we expect to see any other elements from the books in this series (Michelle’s family, Sean’s over-the-top ex Joan)?
David Baldacci: Sean is great at setting up the back-story and using flashbacks to poignantly and forcefully bring viewers into a character’s mind and history. I would say that the plot lines forming the books are used as arcs that permeate throughout the episodes, something I quite like. And, yes, Joan will be there in all her depraved glory!
CTVT: While other media outlets regard cancellation as a sign of a failed show, long experience as viewers of U.S. shows imported to the U.K. here at Cult TV Times tells us that it’s often a hallmark of shows that were actually much better than the average! The list of cancelled shows we retain fond memories of over 30 years is far longer than the list of long-running shows that maintained their initial quality consistently through to the end of their run. Is there any possibility that overseas success might cause TNT to change their minds, or another network or service such as Netflix to step in? Could the cast return for occasional TV movie versions of some of the books?
David Baldacci: I never say never to questions like that. We were all disappointed that the series was not renewed. I received a World Almanac for Christmas and turned to the TV section where they had listed the top 40 cable shows in terms of viewers. King and Maxwell was number 4 on that list and, to my knowledge, the only one that wasn’t renewed. If the show is very successful overseas it could lead to other opportunities. And we do have reversion rights to the series so landing at another home is not out of the question. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Many thanks to David Baldacci for his time and Gemma Pinkney at UKTV for facilitating the interview. King & Maxwell starts tonight at 9pm on Alibi – check out their launch trailer below.
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