Salman Rushdie & Emily Nussbaum: Television is the New Novel (Highlights), Festival of Dangerous Ide


[ Applause ]>>Right from the beginning,
when I was writing about TV, a lot of panels that
I’ve been asked to appear on are TV is the new novel
or TV is the new movies. And the harm in this, I
think, is that it has to do with the history of television
and it’s status in the culture as shameful garbage kind
of drug, kind of junk. And that the only way to praise
it was to say The Wire is like Dickens, or The
Sopranos is like Scorsese. And there are ways in
which those comparisons are interesting, but they’re
completely deadening to discussion of TV. Because the point should be
celebrating all of the things that make TV TV,
not what make it – ->>Yep.>>- – like the novel. And it basically cuts out
the conversation of comedy, all the formal elements of TV, the nature of episodes,
so anyway. When I look at this, what I basically think
is I never want anyone to say this show is so great
because it’s like a novel again. On the other hand, it’s hard
to deny that just historically, the two forms do have
something in common.>>Yeah.>>Because of the
origins of the novel.>>Well I think that’s,
you know, you could say that TV has something in common
with the 18th century novel.>>Mmm hmm. Yes.>>Which was published
episodically. And where the audience or the readership really
interacted with the writer. They would write in and say
what they wanted to happen. And then the writer would
either agree or disagree. And there seemed to be a
moment a couple of years ago, we were talking about you
know where every novelist in America was trying to develop
a 60 minute drama series. And none – – not a single
one of them, including me, got the series picked up. [Laughing] You know, Franz
and Lethem, Junot Diaz, Harry Consrue [assumed
spelling].>>Jay Bond. [assumed spelling].>>Yeah, Jay Bond. Me. And even to the point where I don’t think anything’s
happened with this, either, but I heard HBO had
bought the rights to the whole of William
Faulkner.>>That David Milch is making.>>And that David
Milch was going to adapt the whole of Faulkner.>>[Laughing]>>For – for – I think Filch
is doing the whole of Faulkner as a single monologue. [ Laughter ] It’s going to be a tricky work. Does it feel to you
like at this point in time there are limits preset on what you can do
with the novel?>>No no, the novel’s easy. You can, you know. The great thing – you know when Douglas Adams wrote the
Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy, he destroyed
the earth on page 1. [ Laughter ] I mean, try doing
that in a TV show. You know, I mean. It costs money. [Laughing] [ Laughter ] In a novel, you just say ‘then
they destroyed the earth’ [ Laughter ] To make room for an interstellar
bypass, as I recall. [ Laughter ] So no, I mean, the novel
has those liberties, but the reason why I think
novelists were drawn towards television drama writing
was because it seemed that on cable you had a similar
freedom of – – creativity. But you don’t in fact,
that’s the problem. You’re still dealing
with men in a boardroom.>>The rise of these small cable
networks is really emboldening to creators that – – yes,
they speak to their audience but the audience might be small. There should be economic models
to create shows that aren’t for everyone is crucial
to the explosion of great TV that’s happened. I often have commented
that 30 Rock is one of my favourite television
shows, and of course that was on network television. But it was on a network
that was failing so badly they couldn’t
afford to cancel it. It’s the only reason
the show survived. So sometimes you have
these crazy tap-dances but then you also
have channels like FX where Louis C.K. went there and they essentially offered
him a small amount of money and his agent was like, you
should ask for a bit more. And he went to them, and they
said we’ll give you a bit more money but then you
actually do have to take notes from
the executives. And he took the smaller
amount of money because their model was
essentially an autorous model. It’s a one man show. And different networks
do different things. And I see stuff happening
on the internet. There’s a show called High
Maintenance that I keep talking about that’s – – it’s a
strange self-made show. The episodes, some of
them are six minutes long, some of them are twelve minutes. It’s about a pot dealer in
New York who bicycles around. And each of the episodes is about a different
one of his customers. It’s a very visual show. And honestly, like a lot of
the shows I’m really interested in now, it just doesn’t
fit into the old TV formats that were the commercial
formats. I mean, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s sexy, it’s strange, and
frankly, it’s very poetic. But also because it’s online
and it’s funded a different way, they really do have
the freedom not to say, this is a half hour sitcom. And there are a lot of
these other shows on – – a lot of them on cable networks. Including everything from
Orange is the New Black, which is a Netflix show and really merges all
sorts of formal things. Comedy and drama
and different ways. Louis, and Girls and a
lot of shows like that that have more indy
movie aesthetics. I mean that’s all made
possible by the ability to speak to the audience in a way
other than trying to reach as many people as possible. And like all I hope for is that
– – thinking of the industry – is that not everything ends
up being what you’re talking about which is the very
frustrating situation where somebody has
an original idea.>>Mmm hmm.>>And they’re told that
they have to form it into this mould that’s
the commercial mould. But I have to say,
I’m fascinated by the Gold Rush on novelists. Because you’re right. I mean, everyone came in
and no shows came out. And if anyone can get me the
copy of whatever happened with the Corrections I will
be forever grateful to you. Because I’ve always wanted to watch this failed
pilot of the Corrections. But I mean – ->>One of the things
is that novelists. Novelists, including me,
are not very good at sitting in boardrooms with suits
telling them about their work.>>Mmm hmm.>>I don’t take kindly to it.>>Well I think one of the big
differences, between the form of the drama series and
the form of the novel. Is that the novel is a thing that tells a story
and then stops. You know? The famous advice
in court given by the King of Hearts to the White Rabbit when he’s having
trouble giving evidence. And the King of Hearts says,
‘Begin at the beginning. Go on until you reach
the end, and then stop.’ [Laughing] And that’s that’s
kind of what the novel does. But that is not what the
television series does.>>No, it doesn’t.>>It goes on until you reach
the end and then finds a way to hang on until next year. I think one of the
difficulties for series – – literary novelists
is that a process that is normally internal
has to become external. That you have to start
speaking about and arguing about character and theme
and development and structure in a way that normally, that’s
a conversation you have inside your head. And suddenly you’re having
to have that conversation with other people who have
points of view about it.>>You know, this is a trauma
that goes way back for me. Because I am a TV critic because
of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I basically spent 1999
drunkenly arguing with people about why Buffy the Vampire
Slayer was as worthy a show to talk about as the Sopranos. Not because it was entertaining,
it was, but because I felt like it was a beautiful
mesh of different genres. It was doing these
incredible operatic things. It had this stuff to say
about women and girls, but it was a hard sell because
it was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer – – [ Laughter ] – – and it didn’t
look very good! So my feeling about it is
that people need to break through those prejudices in
order to see what’s beautiful and original in TV and shed
the anxieties of the past that all had to do with
only wanting to say that they watched TV if it’s
something that’s undeniably classy in certain kinds
of socially accepted ways.>>You know, I think that
there is a genuine fear of the novel running
out of readers. I think that is a
danger for the novel. – – People tell you
all the time how as the generations
unfold, people read less. And so in that sense,
you could say that television is endangering
the novel, not by adapting it or replacing it creatively but
just by it being what people do. Instead of reading.

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