I’m interviewed in this new, short video from Firelight Entertainment Group about how my book WATCH ME DIE came about. I’m fond of all the books that I’ve written, but in some ways, this may be my favorite.
Here’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, who has just discovered Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels (that’s me with Parker in the photo above at the Edgars). I envy her reading all of those great books for the first time…
Are you constantly on the look-out for the very best thriller books, from the pens of the finest thriller writers? If so, have you heard of Robert B. Parker, the ‘Dean of American Crime Fiction’? As a Brit, I hadn’t until recently, much to Lee Goldberg’s shock and disbelief.
Parker is best known for his remarkably popular Spenser private eye novels, which became the basis for two TV series (Spenser: For Hireand A Man Called Hawk) and even a bunch of well-loved made-for-TV movies. In fact, Lee broke into the TV business by writing four episodes of Spenser: For Hire, so he owes much of his career to Parker and the fictional private eye.
Parker died aged 77 in 2010. The author’s estate decided to continue his Spenser and his Jesse Stone novels with new writers. The Jesse Stone novels were initially written by the Parker’s friend Michael Brandman, who produced the TV movies based on the books, and they are now being written by Reed Farrell Coleman. The Spenser novels are being written by Ace Atkins to wide acclaim.
If Parker’s work is new to you, an unexplored star in your crime fiction books firmament, you might like to find out a bit more about him and his work. If you’re into the best thriller authors, he’s an all-American classic. They aren’t just good thriller books. They’re great thriller books.
About Robert B. Parker – His Crime books and TV mystery series
Robert Brown Parker was known and respected for his epic, encyclopaedic knowledge of the city of Boston, Massachusetts. His crime novels are adored by readers, the great man’s fellow authors and critics alike, including stateside crime fiction luminaries like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben. In fact, they’re so good they’ve been cited as ‘reviving and changing’ the detective genre altogether. Big stuff… but then again Parker was a big writer in every sense of the word.
Robert B. Parker’s awards included two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and, in 2002, Grand Master Award for his Lifetme Achievement in the crime writing field. There are currently forty Spenser novels in print, and you’ll find a list of them all here, on Wikipedia.
About Ace Atkins – Continuing Parker’s legendary work
Ace Atkins is a popular New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award nominee with fifteen runaway hit novels under his belt. As a journalist he was originally a newsroom crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune. His first novel was published when he was twenty seven and he threw in the journalistic towel completely at aged thirty to write crime fiction full time.
Ace won a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a TV series based on his investigation into a forgotten 1950s murder, which ultimately formed the core of his excellent novel White Shadow. He’s best known for his masterful grasp of plotting, totally believable characters and highly entertaining, seamless and convincing mix of fact and fiction. And, by all accounts, he’s also blessed with an uncanny gift for mimicking the late Robert B. Parker ‘s style, to the delight of Parker’s many millions of fans.
With a bit of luck the first three uncannily Parker-esque Spenser crime fiction novels will turn into a long run. Some things are just too good to come to an end. In the meantime, if you haven’t grabbed a copy of Cheap Shot yet, here’s what a few reviewers say about it on Amazon:
“Spenser is as tough and funny as ever, and Atkins has become a worthy successor.” – Booklist
“Assured… Atkins’s gift for mimicking the late Robert B. Parker could lead to a long run, to the delight of Spenser devotees.” – Publishers Weekly
“A well-conceived adventure that balances Spenser and friends’ experience with Akira’s innocence while drawing on Atkins’ own Auburn football days.” – Crimespree Magazine
“Cheap Shot is the best yet, with a whip-crack plot, plenty of intriguing and despicable characters, and the lovable, relentless Spenser at its center. Atkins also has a deft way with Parker’s style… Atkins is bringing his own energy and strengths to Parker’s series. Cheap Shot is Spenser, by the book.” – Tampa Bay Times
Last week, CBS picked up two series for next fall — CSI: Cyber and NCIS: New Orleans — that were shot as so-called “back-door pilots,” embedded in episodes of existing series. CSI:Cyber aired as an episode of CSI and NCIS: New Orleans aired as an episode of NCIS (which, itself, began as a back-door pilot as an episode of JAG).
A back-door pilot is a way to save money on making a pilot, a sample episode of a proposed TV series. Since standalone pilots that don’t lead to a seires cost millions of dollars, have no commerical value, and will usually never air anywhere, shooting them as an episode of an existing series allows studios to recoup their costs from the syndication revenue of a hit series. It’s a practice that has been going on for fifty years — The Andy Griffith Show began as a back-door pilot episode of The Danny Thomas Show.
The problem is, backdoor pilots usually end up being one of the worst episodes of whatever series is hosting them. That’s because the stars of the host series, by design, have to take a back seat to the stars of the pilot…and let’s face it, people aren’t tuning in to see the pilot characters, they are tuning in to see the characters they already know and love. Star Trek ended it’s second season with Assignment Earth, a back-door pilot starring Robert Lansing, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended it’s second season with a back-door pilot for a series with Bill Daily. Both pilots failed to sell.
The networks and producers can’t really disguise backdoor pilots — because they can’t function as pilots without being pilots, introducing us to the characters and franchise of the proposed show. But it’s a practice that has worked.
Some of hit shows that began as backdoor pilots (also known, some years back, as “nested spin-offs”) include Diagnosis Murder, NCIS, CSI: Miami, Maude, SWAT, Petticoat Junction, Laverne & Shirley, Barnaby Jones, Empty Nest, Knots Landing, and Stargate: Atlantis.
The many, many shows that have hosted one or more backdoor pilots include Magnum PI, Cosby, Spenser: For Hire, Star Trek, Vegas, Bones, Married With Children, Gunsmoke, The Practice, Charlie’s Angels, Barnaby Jones, NCIS, Ironside, Criminal Minds, Murder She Wrote, Smallville, House and The Rockford Files (which had four of’em!). Back in the day, anthology shows like Zane Grey Theater, Dick Powell Theater, and Police Story (which begat Police Woman, Joe Forrester and David Cassidy: Man Undercover) were often used for back-door pilots.
Bill Rabkin and I were the executive producers of Diagnosis Murder with Fred Silverman, the man who once ran CBS, ABC and NBC and was known as the “king of the spin-off.” Since Diagnosis Murder was a nested spinoff of Jake and the Fatman, which itself was a nested spin-off of Matlock, Silverman was a big believer in backdoor pilots and insisted that we do at least one every season. Diagnosis Murder tried at least six of them that I know of and they all went nowhere.
We personally did three of them, including Whistlers, basically a tame Lethal Weapon with women, and The Chief, starring Fred Dryer as the leader of the LAPD. Here’s the main title sequence for Whistlers:
and the sales pitch for The Chief:
We were very clever with how we structured The Chief as a back-door pilot…and it was the only one of the Diagnosis Murder backdoor pilots that actually had a shot getting picked up.
We wrote it as a tw0-hour, sweeps episode of the series…but crafted it in such a way that we could edit it down to one-hour and cut almost all of the Diagnosis Murder cast out of the show for internal sales purposes
Fred Dryer was great in the part…and newcomer Neal McDonough had real star power (since proven on Band of Brothers, Justified, Desperate Housewives, etc.). We were sure we were on to something. The two-hour movie was one of the highest rated shows of the week, #12 if memory serves, and when we had the one-hour version tested, the scores were among the best Fred Silverman had ever seen. Silverman was convinced we were a lock for the fall schedule.
Unfortunately, this was one of the rare cases where ratings and testing didn’t mean as much to the network as personality…nobody at CBS wanted to work with Fred Dryer (which begs the question, why did CBS let us cast him, and why did they pay the “pilot breakage” on his salary for the guest shot, if they had no intention of greenlighting a series with him in the lead?).
But Silverman wasn’t concerned. With the numbers and testing we had, and with Dryer’s successful track record with the hit series Hunter, he was convinced we’d have a sale in a matter of weeks with another network.
We took it to every network and pitched it face-to-face to their presidents (that was the power of working with Silverman), and every one of them had some personal reason for not wanting to be in business with Dryer…and seemed to take great pleasure in passing on the project in the room to his implacable face.
As it turned out, a couple of years later CBS did a very simlar show (The District) with great success and a star reportedly as difficult as Dryer reportedly was (Craig T. Nelson)…and NBC ended up reviving Hunter for six episodes and discovered, or so we heard, that Dryer was even more reportedly difficult than he’d ever reportedly been before.