What I hope for, from HBO.

Lots of readers are asking if I’ll be writing any episodes of the HBO series based on Doc. There’s a two-part answer to that question.

Part 1: Not a chance.

In Hollywood, it is customary to ignore the author of  “source material” once the rights to it have been secured. Producers and writers see only a downside to any consultations or sharing of information with the author of a work they are adapting. They expect us to whine and complain and pout when they change our stories. They don’t want to listen to us moan, “But my character would never say that!”  Honestly: who needs the grief?

I don’t expect to get so much as a phone call from anyone connected with the creative process involved with adapting Doc for a series on HBO.

Part 2: Just as well, because I am really, seriously, categorically not cut out to be a screenwriter.

Ten years ago, I had a lot of fun writing a screen adaptation of The Sparrow with Karen Hall. But if and when Scott Derrickson ever manages to get that screenplay produced, I’ve already told him that Karen should be the one who does the day-to-day, on-set changes and adjustments to the pages. As a veteran TV writer, she’s used to the snap decisions and instant turn-around times. She understands the give and take of the work, the short-hand phrases and jargon. I’m not willing or able to move to California to be available for that, and I don’t work well under pressure.

So, even if I were asked to help with the HBO series, I would probably have to say, “Thanks for asking, but no.” I have to let go of Doc and let other people do their jobs.

I’m not saying this is easy.

As Karen told me when she first proposed writing a screen adaptation of The Sparrow together, “Even if the movie sucks, more people will see it in its opening weekend than will ever read your book.” And she’s right. The movie often becomes the story. It absorbs the source material. Already, there are wildly wrong synopses of what’s supposedly in my book. I’ve been both praised and criticized for the reported decision “to feature the never-before-explored love triangle between Holliday, his prostitute wife Kate Elder, and best friend Wyatt Earp,” as though that’s what my book is about.

Frankly, it worries me that that Wyatt Earp is identified as Doc’s best friend because that might indicate that Morgan is going to be left out of the equation, when I think he was the glue that held all these relationships together. It also makes me nervous that they’re calling Kate Harony “Kate Elder,” because that might indicate that they’re not going to do anything with her real back-story.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that initial online report of the HBO deal may be every bit as inaccurate as the ones claiming to describe my story.

I’m also aware that Wyatt probably did know Kate before Doc did — both socially and in the biblical sense. I’ve made it plain in Doc that Kate never liked Wyatt, though I didn’t clutter up my story with a triangle. For a television series, however, there is indeed room to explore that corner of history as a through-line. I just hope that Doc never finds out.

Here’s what else I hope.

I hope that Dr. John Henry Holliday gets his season of happiness. I hope that he feels well during his summer in Dodge City, and is able to return to the profession that gives him so much satisfaction. I hope that he makes a few good friends who will stand by him when he needs help. And most of all, I hope that he gets to play the Emperor concerto on a well-tuned piano on a single transcendent night in the immense Kansas darkness.




7 thoughts on “What I hope for, from HBO.”

  1. With Akiva Goldsman+Ron Howard attached, one can hope for good things. If one ignores the Dan Brown-based movies. But rumor has it they were ruined by Brown’s meddling with the screenplay, so kudos for staying detached. Being HBO, they will probably elaborate on brothel scenes….

  2. Well, gawd forbid anyone should have to work hard to produce a great version of Doc’s story. I am sure it will be a great show – but I am sorry it won’t be the real story being told. We have all seen the imagined story a milion times – what is intersting here is the reality.
    On the upside, I noticed they gave Charlain Harris a cameo in True Blood…so I’ll expect you to have a tiny, speaking role in Doc somewhere!
    I am really happy for you! (And for me – can’t wait to see this show!)

  3. I too am looking forward to the Emperor concerto. It is my hope that HBO would make another fair attempt to reveal the reality of life in the latter 19th century. I opine that HBO did an excellent job with the series “Deadwood” with the exception of the George Hearst character. My research has indicated he was nothing like the George Hearst portrayed by Gerald McRaney. Other than that, and the fact that none of us were there, I imagine it was a close depiction of life and politics in Deadwood. It is easy for one to sit back and pontificate that if it was I, how “I wouldn’t do such and such” or wag the finger of shame with a hearty tsk, tsk. As with all life situations at a given point in time, there is the ideal and there is the real. The ideal is what we appear to strive for, but the real is what puts food on the table and where we learn to survive.
    Ms. Russell did an excellent job of explaining “this is how it is” in the novel “Doc”. Let us all hope that HBO will do the same.
    At least for me, once reading the book, the story cannot be taken away from me.

  4. I do what I do without hope of reward or fear of punishment. I do not require Heaven or Hell to bribe or scare me into acting decently. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

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