10 Literary Authors Who Have Written for TV

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This week, were excited (and somewhat skeptical) about the news that Bret Easton Ellis, author of teenage-ennui classic Less Than Zero and bourgeois-ennui classic American Psycho, is working on writing a new drama series for the CW about monstrous high schoolers entitled Copeland High. Though television is often considered the junk food to the nourishing meal of literature, Ellis’s project reminded us very fondly of the authors who have turned their literary chops to writing for television — whether for good or for ill. Click through to read our brief survey of novelists who have written for TV (and usually improved it in the process), and let us know if we’ve missed your favorite multi-faceted writer in the comments.

Salman Rushdie

Though it hasn’t hit screens yet, Salman Rushdie has written a pilot for a Showtime TV drama entitled The Next People. “It’s a sort of paranoid science-fiction series, people disappearing and being replaced by other people,” Rushdie has said. “It’s not exactly sci-fi, in that there is not an awful lot of science behind it, but there are certainly elements which are not naturalistic.” Apparently, his agents suggested that he write for TV as opposed to film because “the writing quality of movies has gone down the plughole.” We can’t wait to see how much better Rushdie is than all those film writers.

Richard Price

Price’s novels are gritty, fast-talking portraits of 20th century urban life in America, so it’s no surprise that he was tapped to work on The Wire. In fact, critics had started comparing the show to Price’s Clockers even before he joined the writing team. Along with the rest of the show’s writers, the author was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award award for Best Dramatic Series for his work on the fifth season. He had less luck with the short-lived and mostly ignored NYC 22.

Jonathan Ames

The ultimate in self-deprecation chic, Jonathan Ames turned one of his short stories, “Bored to Death,” into a very good television show of the same title. In a Salon essay entitled How to Write a TV Show, Sort Of , Ames explains the start of his writing process thusly: “For two months or so, write down on various pads and scraps of paper numerous ideas for the show, and by ideas, I mean: images, bits of dialogue, character arcs, situations and locations. I use many different pads and notebooks because I’m terribly disorganized and never seem to have the last pad I used nearby.” That sounds about right.

Stephen King

As prolific as King is, and as popular as his themes are on screen, we’re actually surprised he hasn’t done more direct writing for television. In addition to a single episode he wrote for The X-Files in 1998 (“Chinga”) and a couple other dabblings, he has mostly focused his attention on writing miniseries — both original stories (Storm of the Century, Rose Red) and adaptations of his novels (The Stand, The Shining).

Dennis LeHane

LeHane has quite a reputation for penning film-bait (he wrote Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone and Shutter Island), and like Price, he was pulled on board to write for The Wire, though he came on a little earlier, in season three, winning the 2008 WGA award for Best Dramatic Series and the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Television Feature/Mini-Series Teleplay for season four. Fun fact: LeHane made a cameo in the season three episode “Middle Ground” as a special equipment officer named Sullivan.

Gore Vidal

The prolific, grumpy and prolifically grumpy author put very few limits on his creative outlets, writing everything from novels to essays to Broadway plays to screenplays. Much of his television work came in the form of made-for-TV movies (Billy the Kid, Dress Gray), but he also wrote single episodes of many shows, including 60 minute adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and A Farewell to Arms for the 1955 season of Climax!

Richard Russo

Russo’s most successful foray into TV was probably in the HBO adaptation of his novel Empire Falls, which he also wrote and which won a Golden Globe for best TV miniseries in 2006. He’s also written a few made-for-TV movies and the kind of books that make us never, ever want to get married.

David Benioff

Unlike most of the writers on this list, we actually know Benioff better for his TV work that his literary fiction — his 2001 debut novel, The 25th Hour was very well received (and eventually became a film starring Edward Norton and directed by Spike Lee), but his real triumph, of course, is the fact that he is currently with an executive producer, showrunner and writer on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Maybe this will mean that his fiction sees a little resurgence.

James Ellroy

As far as we’re concerned, Ellroy is pretty much the last word in contemporary crime fiction, having penned such lasting gems as The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential — and clearly a lot of people agree. In 2011, Investigation Discovery aired James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons, which featured the famously out-there author scrambling around the city and talking about its most gruesome stories. It would be a riot if it all wasn’t so upsetting.

George Pelecanos

Yes folks, here’s yet another crime novelist who worked on The Wire. Listen, there’s a reason that show is so good. And this is it. Unlike Price and LeHane, Pelecanos was on board from the start — producer David Simon pitched him the idea on the way home from a funeral of a mutual friend. He wrote the teleplays for many of our favorite episodes (“Hamsterdam”!) and by season two had been bumped up to producer in his own right, though he kept on lending his writing skills to the show. Since the conclusion of The Wire, Pelecanos has worked on the writing team for both the HBO WWII mini-series The Pacific and the highly acclaimed show Treme, also from David Simon and Eric Overmyer.