Prince of the City
Novelist Michael Connelly’s most famous character is coming to the screen in the Amazon Studios series Bosch.
Being at the right place at the right time might be the oldest of Hollywood clichés, but it happened for novelist Michael Connelly and his iconic LAPD detective character, Harry Bosch. It just took more than two decades to occur.
So when they started talking about potential showrunners, Connelly thought back to that dinner. “I said, ‘I know Eric Overmyer, and I know he knows the books.’ We talked to him, and that meeting lasted about five minutes. It was unclear to all of us whether he was trying out for us or we were trying out for him. He kind of cut to the chase and said, ‘If you guys are in, I’m in.’ That was it.”
With all 10 episodes of Bosch set for simultaneous release February 13 on Amazon Prime, Connelly acknowledges that his feelings about the character had something to do with the long road he took to television.
“I know I was protective of Harry Bosch since I’ve invested 20-some years in him,” he says.
So when the author was asked to a Sunset Boulevard meeting three years ago with Fabrik Entertainment’s Henrik Bastin to discuss a possible deal, “There were all these things that said, ‘Why am I even here?’ But in a one-hour breakfast, he totally convinced me of how well he knew the character and how he would turn that into a television show. He said all the right things, then proceeded to make good on all those things as we went down the path.”
Connelly had finally found a way to bring his character to the small screen, but he had reason to be reticent. He had shelled out a hefty sum to buy back the rights to the character from Paramount Pictures, which purchased a 15-year option in 1994 with the idea of creating a franchise of feature films.
Connelly and the studio spent all of those years in development limbo, never able to agree on a script that captured Bosch’s essence in a 90-minute format.
As the option dragged on, the film business was moving away from cops and more toward superheroes.
Plus, some of that development time was spent trying to fit Bosch into a standard procedural format, which doesn’t suit a character whose demons and conflicts are internalized, boiling deep below the surface.
In hindsight, Connelly credits the delay for allowing Bosch to debut at the right time, in the right format.
“I look at it in a positive way now because all the time it was on the shelf, I kept writing about the character,” he says. “So when [the project] came off the shelf [in 2009], I had a ton of material.
"But TV had changed. There were more serialized shows being made, and I had a lot of material that lends itself to that kind of storytelling. There was a silver lining.”
For streaming service Amazon, this is its first cop series and, happily, one based on the company’s bread and butter — books — which allows for cross-promotion.
“The fact that Bosch comes from a successful book series is a real strength because it has that built-in following on Amazon,” says Roy Price, Amazon Studios vice-president.
“It creates special opportunities for the community of Michael Connelly fans and Bosch fans. Amazon can address that audience in a number of ways, and they can interact with each other. When it works, it’s a good thing for us.”
After Bastin agreed to finance writing the pilot of Bosch, he and Connelly had to find the right showrunner. Once again, a fortuitous meal came into play.
Prior to Connelly’s meeting with Bastin, he attended a dinner with David Simon, creator of The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street. There he struck up a conversation with writer-producer Eric Overmyer — who worked on those Simon shows as well as series like Boardwalk Empire and Law & Order — and discovered that Overmyer knew all about Harry Bosch.
“Maybe it’s an ego thing, but I respond to people who know what I’m trying to do in the books,” Connelly says. “It’s important, even though it’s a different animal to turn it into a television show.”
So when they started talking about potential showrunners, Connelly thought back to that dinner.
“I said, ‘I know Eric Overmyer, and I know he knows the books.’ We talked to him, and that meeting lasted about five minutes. It was unclear to all of us whether he was trying out for us or we were trying out for him. He kind of cut to the chase and said, ‘If you guys are in, I’m in.’ That was it.”
Overmyer and Connelly got to work on the pilot, sending files back and forth. “Eric is a great teacher,” Connelly says. “He’s an introverted guy, but he’s really good at analysis of the potential pitfalls. It wasn’t like we were sitting at the same computer together — he wrote a script, then I took a shot at it. The process was pretty interesting. The best part was that it was always stimulating to me, so I kept my head in it.”
As they were writing, interest in the series was growing. No one was officially shopping the pilot, just reaching out to a few companies to gauge in-terest. Then Amazon made an offer no one could refuse — over a meal, of course.
“We were gearing up when a person I know in the book business at Amazon told [then head of original programming] Joe Lewis on the Amazon Studios side about this project,” Connelly explains. “He set up a lunch. We thought it might be a semi-informal pitch, and he started by saying, ‘We want to take it off the table. We want to make this.’ It went very smoothly.”
With a distributor in place, now came the difficult task of finding the right actor to play a character in which legions of fans felt invested. Readers have known the maverick homicide cop since 1992’s The Black Echo, and Connelly has written 18 subsequent books keeping Harry Bosch alive, including his most recent, The Burning Room, which came out in November.
“People have an expectation of the Bosch character,” says Amazon Studios’ Price. “It’s not just coming out of the blue. It was actually a lot of work casting that character. The best measure of whether you’ve done that right is whether the Bosch fans embrace the choices, and we got excellent feedback.”
Veteran actor Titus Welliver plays the brooding, dedicated detective who listens to jazz and sips liquor in his lonely house in the Hollywood Hills.
Welliver is best known as the consummate supporting character, having appeared recently on CBS’s The Good Wife and FX’s Sons of Anarchy, as well as all three of Ben Affleck’s features, including the 2013 best-picture Oscar winner, Argo.
Until Bosch came along, he says, supporting roles helped him stay interested in the characters he takes on.
“I’ve always been content to be number two or three on the call sheet,” Welliver explains. “If I’m going to be the center of a show, I want it to be something that I feel will maintain me as an actor. Ironically, I was getting ready to go into the pitch phase of a project that I had written myself.
"Then I got a call from my manager, and he said, ‘I’m sending you a script for Bosch.’ I had only read one of the Harry Bosch novels, but I remember it definitely impacted me. I read the script in no short order and thought, ‘God, I would love to play this part. It’s everything that I could possibly want.’”
Though Welliver’s shooting schedule on Transformers: Age of Extinction kept delaying meetings, the deal was sealed once he was able to speak with Connelly and Overmyer. “It made me want the role even more,” the actor says.
Because Welliver is younger than Harry Bosch — who continues to age in the book series — Connelly and Overmyer had to tweak the character’s backstory to make it more current.
Rather than Bosch being a Vietnam veteran, as in the novels, he’s a Special Forces Gulf War vet who reenlisted after 9/11. But Bosch’s profoundly sad childhood — murdered mother, abusive foster-care situations — remains intact.
As for that house in the Hollywood Hills — unlikely, on a cop’s salary — Connelly says that’s explained twice in the series as coming from money Bosch received for consulting on a film. Also, rather than a one-book, one-season rule, the initial 10 episodes of Bosch draw from a trio of Connelly’s books: 1994’s The Concrete Blonde, 2002’s City of Bones and 2006’s Echo Park.
Fans of The Wire will also notice that two major characters, Bosch’s partner Jerry Edgar and LAPD Deputy Chief Irvin Irving, are played by familiar faces: Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick, respectively. (The overlap continues behind the scenes with a crew whose credits include The Sopranos, Treme, and Boardwalk Empire.)
Reddick, who’s played more than his fair share of gritty cops, says his trust in Overmyer led him to play one more.
“Because of how I know Eric, I took the leap,” Reddick says. “We shot the pilot in the fall [of 2013]. At the time, it was just another job. Then, when it got picked up, I was asked to be a series regular. Then I started reading the books. I started to really understand how cool it was.”
Hector says working with Overmyer again was also a draw for him, and seeing Reddick at a table read with Amazon execs was a welcome surprise.
“I was so excited to see him. That absolutely did make it fun,” Hector says, pointing out that he and Reddick both have badges this time around. “Working on The Wire, I was on the other side of the law.”
Amazon released the pilot in February 2014: in an unusually democratic process: the studio invites the public to view pilots online and vote for those they’d like to see go to series.
“I had high hopes that I would be able to marshal the troops of book fans that would watch it and vote for it,” Connelly says. “I’m not ingrained in the TV business. I’m a book writer who’s a rookie at this.”
Connelly’s instincts were correct, and the show received a 10-episode order last summer. However, the pilot has been tweaked since that first release, which Price says is merely part of the process of making high-quality series.
“Even though our pilot season is public, people understand that it’s part of a creative process,” Price says. “There have been changes with other Amazon pilots. I think Transparent had one recasting. If that made it better, it’s worth doing.”
That ability to adapt and change has been an eye-opening part of the process of bringing Bosch to series for Connelly, too.
“The writing team created things that are not in the books. There’s new stuff that’s derivative of the books, but not out of the books. And that can lead us in other directions,” Connelly concludes.
“It’s a living, breathing thing, but the overriding guidelines are these books. As long as we keep telling good stories, we’ll get to keep doing that. No reason to think otherwise.”
Photos: Aaron Epstein/Amazon Studios
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