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Friday, August 10, 2012

Think Your Books Would Make Good Television? by Tess Gerritsen

 Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo) --as appeared her blog.

Today, in the newsletter, I read this interesting observation by Carol Fitzgerald, who was visiting Comicon:
Yesterday morning, at a panel where authors were talking about their books being adapted to screen, I heard this nugget about the difference between what works on the big screen and what works as a television series — it’s all about characters. You continue to build the characters that you have on a television show. If you just have a story to tell, that is a book or a movie. The example given was THE DA VINCI CODE. That was a movie; it was not a series for television. Now think about “The Firm” failing as a television show while it was a great book and movie, and it makes sense. Most television, and here I include cable programming, revolves around interest in the characters for a prolonged period, whether it’s comedy or drama. Think about that the next time you think a book would make a great movie.
And it’s absolutely true. In a television series, what matters is characters. They’re the ones who keep a series going.

I never imagined, when I first created Jane Rizzoli in THE SURGEON, that she’d one day be half of a duo who’d someday be featured in a TV series. I wasn’t thinking about TV at all; I was just trying to tell a good story.

When I created Dr. Maura Isles in THE APPRENTICE, I never imagined she’d be part of a bestselling series; I just needed a medical examiner in the scene, and I needed a character named “Maura Isles,” the winning name in a charity auction, where the highest bidder got to name a character.

By the time I’d written THE SINNER, the third book with Jane Rizzoli, I realized something was happening between these two women. They’d started off as secondary characters in their debut appearances, and they’d grown into people with vivid personalities. Jane was the smart-alecky, aggressive, instinctive cop. Maura was the cool scientist with a deep, dark streak. But more than that, they were starting to rely on each other. They respected each other, and even though they had nothing in common, a bond was forming. In the books that followed, their friendship deepened, went off the rails, and reaffirmed itself. The way real friendships do.

Then they ended up in a TV series.

During my first phone call with producer Bill Haber, what he said was: “I love your girls and I think they belong on TV.” He didn’t say “I love your plots” or “I love your mysteries.” He said I love your girls. That startled me a bit, because I never envisioned the books as a TV series. I thought that VANISH or THE SURGEON would make a good movie, but a series featuring Jane and Maura’s friendship? Huh?

But that’s precisely what executive producer and writer Janet Tamaro has focused on during the first three seasons — the friendship and loyalty between two very different crime-fighting women. She put her own distinctive mark on the show, injecting a wicked sense of humor, and keeping her focus on that relationship above all.

The result? “Rizzoli & Isles” has been renewed for a fourth season. I give all credit to Tamaro, because she (and Haber) were the ones who understood what makes a TV show work. They understood that it’s character that counts.

And so, apparently, do the show’s fans. They’re throwing the first “Rizzoli and Isles” fan convention next weekend in Anaheim. An event I wouldn’t dream of missing.

So how weird is it, to see “my girls” celebrated at a fan convention? Very, very weird. And fun. And mind-bending.

I’ll take pictures and report back when I return from Rizzlescon!


  1. I love Rizolli & Isles. Have fun at Rizzlescon. LOL


  2. Love the show. Gratifying to know it couldn't have happened without your characters being so charismatic. Well done. Great casting too.

  3. Huge fan or your "girls", happy to see the series is renewed, it's one of my favorites. I get a happy buzz when the show comes on. :)


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