There was a time when the giants of literature sneered at the small screen. But now Sir Salman Rushdie is moving from books to the box after signing up to write his first television drama.
The Booker Prize winner is developing Next People, a fictional story which dissects the "radical pace of transformation in contemporary American life – from politics and race to technology, science and sexuality".
The Satanic Verses author will write and executive produce the project for Showtime, the US cable network responsible for the sexed-up historical drama The Tudors and the similarly graphic comedy series, Californication. It is understood that Rushdie, 63, encouraged Andrew Wylie, his literary agent, to find him a television project.
The Next People deal was sealed after David Nevins, Showtime's entertainment president, convinced the author that the pay-television network, which has 16 million US subscribers, was the right home for his television writing debut.
Rushdie's co-producers are Working Title TV, the television arm of the film company behind Billy Elliot and Shaun of the Dead. Although Rushdie doesn't do "pilots", it is hoped that the hour-long Next People could be developed into a series. The drama is likely to follow Showtime series such as Nurse Jackie on to UK screens.
It is common for authors to pen screenplays for Hollywood films. However, acclaimed dramas such as Mad Men, The Wire and The Sopranos, with their novelistic structures, are now making television a natural home for the best writers.
David Simon, creator of The Wire, hired the authors George Pelecanos –"the greatest living American crime writer", according to Stephen King – Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) and Richard Price (Clockers) to write the screenplays for the series.
The New York Times commented: "If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch The Wire, unless, that is, he was already writing for it."
Rushdie's US drama has been shaped by his experiences in New York, where he is a regular on the social scene. He moved to New York in 1999 and adapted easily to the culture, engaging fellow authors Don DeLillo and Paul Auster in debate over the merits of his adopted baseball team, the New York Yankees.
His instant reaction to the 11 September attacks was "the feeling of someone having attacked my house."
Rushdie's love life has also kept Manhattan's gossip diarists busy. After his fourth marriage, to US television presenter Padma Lakshmi, ended in 2007, he installed Pia Glenn, a 32-year-old Broadway actress into his five-storey New York mansion. Rushdie was reported to have dumped her by email a few months later.
He has also collaborated on a screenplay for a film version of his 1981 Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children, retitled Winds Of Change, for the long-awaited movie version directed by Deepha Mehta. There are no current plans for a television adaptation of The Satanic Verses, the controversial novel which resulted in the issuing of a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989.
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