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As an author whose works have served as the basis for a wide swath of live-action adaptations, Stephen King is a master the storytelling craft. But that doesn't necessarily mean everyone adapting his stories is looking to get his advice on how to handle things. Such is the case with David E. Kelley's new dramatic thriller Mr. Mercedes, which boasts the esteemed Dennis Lehane in its writing staff. CinemaBlend spoke with Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone, and he explained why he and the writers' room specifically avoided tapping King for guidance.
No, I don't believe in that. I want to be very respectful of his material, but at the same time, I didn't want to be reverential. And that's something, that's the exact same process that I expect when somebody adapts my work. You know, it's like, 'I hope to God you get it, and respect it, but then get me out of the way, and get me out of your head.' Because that's two different entities. So I didn't reach out to Stephen after I was on the show. I'd shoot him an email every now and then to say, 'Hey, you're in good hands. This is looking good.' But it wasn't like I would run things by him. I think that's a recipe for disaster.
Having seen several of his novels turned into high acclaimed features -- with Mystic River also on that list -- Dennis Lehane has a perspective on the situation that isn't so universal within the realm of TV writers. He completely understands that the novel Mr. Mercedes and the TV show Mr. Mercedes, while sharing a name and many of the same story details, are not at all meant to be treated in the same way. How something works on the written page may not translate so winningly into a TV scene, but figuring out that process is something that the TV writers need to unravel themselves, as opposed to hitting up Stephen King on a daily basis to see what he would do.
Now, to be fair, Dennis Lehane wasn't completely dismissing anything that Stephen King would have offered, by way of background knowledge and personal advice. The way Lehane put it, it's comparable to how you wouldn't want to deal with any heavily involved situation by seeking advice from someone on the outskirts of the relevant information. Sure, King knows his own Mr. Mercedes story through and through, but not necessarily what a room full of TV writers is doing with it. Here's what else Lehane told me.
If he was in the room, good lord, we would have loved that -- but if he was in the room, then you're up to this day-to-day fluidity of the show, of building a show like that. But if you're not in the room, you wouldn't be, so it would just be too complicated. There's a reason why I never look over the shoulder of people who are writing adaptations of my work. I always say, 'Show me a draft when you're ready.' It could be a third or fourth draft, I don't want to see it before then.
That makes a ton of sense, and that kind of conversation could turn into an immediate headache, since any specific point that Dennis Lehane and the other writers bring up would likely get bogged down with detailing the TV-specific explanations that led to it, and nobody has time for. The more splendid solution would obviously be to just hire Stephen King as a writer for the show, but that's not going to happen.
And as it's been made partially clear over the years, Stephen King does not get extremely anal about the ways his books have been adpated -- minus, of course, his heavily reported hatred of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. And Dennis Lehane spoke to King's hands-off approach a bit during our talk, too.
I didn't specifically discuss this with Stephen, but I think he has a similar attitude. As long as people respect your material, and they're smart people, then you're in good hands.
Showrunner David E. Kelley has been in the TV business for a long time, and just prior to Mr. Mercedes, he adapted Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies for HBO, making some (but not many) changes in taking it up a notch on the dramatic front. And Kelley, along with Dennis Lehane and the rest of the Mr. Mercedes staff, have put forth one of TV's most engrossing dramas, with the story of retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) trying to once and for all solve the case of the disturbed thrill-killer Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), who is just as intent on mentally breaking down the hard-drinking nemesis that sought him out years earlier. And it only gets better as the season goes on.
Mr. Mercedes airs on Audience Network on Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET. We're just three installments into the ten-episode season, and Dennis Lehane's handiwork is coming up in four of the next 7 episodes. To see what other highly intense TV shows are coming in the near future, head to our summer TV schedule and our fall premiere schedule.