Sitting down with the three main men behind the Amazon series “Bosch” is a bit different the second time around. For one, it takes place in the early hours of the morning following the 2016 Golden Globe awards (instead of a random mid-afternoon in February). The wild night before saw Amazon win big in surprising fashion, leading to a number of late-night parties for the streaming network’s growing family, and author Michael Connelly and executive producers Henrik Bastin and Eric Overmyer all felt like they were there, at the ceremony, even though they weren’t.
“Bosch” may not have caught the attention of the HFPA in its debut season, but Season 2 illustrates even further the passion, precision and possibilities inherent in what Bastin refers to as a “contemporary noir.” The utter devotion all three have for the project is evident not only in the demeanor of each producer, but in the lengths at which they’ve gone to find authenticity in every moment. In our half-hour together, Connelly et all casually divulged some surprising secrets that speak to the pride they have in their efforts — including how they don’t merely shoot on location. They shoot in location, capturing a number of scenes in an operating morgue with real dead bodies. The group was also happy with the number of people watching their show, which they’ve been told is equal to a “well-rated cable show.”
Most importantly, though, is the general reaction to “Bosch” from fans worldwide. Season 1 wasn’t an easy process — and they didn’t let themselves off the hook in Season 2 — but hearing the group speak to the relief they felt from pleasing Connelly’s core fanbase was inspiring. It may not come in the form of a Golden Globe, but I doubt any of them would make the swap.
I wanted to ask you guys what the biggest takeaways were from Season 1.
ERIC OVERMYER: The big challenge, going into the pilot, was that I think it took us some time for us to figure out how to translate a character from prose fiction to drama. How do you make all that interior life more overt, so the audience knows what Harry is thinking and feeling without having a voice-over?
A bold decision. A lot of people are using voice-over these days, so it’s kind of nice to watch a show that doesn’t.
EO: Well, it’s sort of a cheat. I mean sometimes it works really well — “Sunset Boulevard.” But that’s because he’s dead, so he has to have a voice-over.
There’s always an exception to the rule.
EO: So we’re just trying to figure out how to get the character from the books into television, and he’s had to adapt to being in this time frame and LA. He’s also younger than the character is now in the books.
HENRIK BASTIN: One thing I keep thinking about that we learned in the first season but really mastered or expanded in the second season is that the first season, Harry Bosch was in every scene. He was the one that was important to introduce. In the second season, we allowed ourselves to expand the universe, because we trusted Eric and Michael’s writing. For instance, Lance Reddick, who plays Irving, has a very big arc — and an important arc — which, for the experience of the audience, will give a lot. I think we go deeper into character this season. We have some bigger set pieces and still remain very strong on plot, but we allowed ourselves to go deeper into character.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Yeah, there was a lot more freedom after we established Harry in the first season. You could kind of see it. I think a lot of the writers on the show were not used to having the guy who wrote the book be on the show. So there was a lot of treating me with kid gloves in the first season. But then everyone got the point that we can create lots of new storytelling. I’m not “Mr. No-By-The-Book.” I just want to make sure the character is by the book because then we can go wherever we want to go. We have a lot of stuff from Brent Sexton, who’s this year’s villain. A lot of stuff. A lot of his point of view, his scenes, and he was fantastic. And that stuff wasn’t in any book.
EO: Jeri Ryan’s character is also very different from the character in the book.
What’s that like for you? Is there anything that you never imagined that you’d have to cut, or that you just weren’t able to fit into the show?
MC: You know, I really can’t think of anything. It’s weird, I had an experience 15 years ago — Clint Eastwood made a movie out of one of my books [“Blood Work”] and he changed the ending and he changed the bad guy and I was upset about that. Now I make this show, and I totally get why you do it. Because I’m all in favor [of change] — again, as long as we’re loyal to the character. People like the Bosch books because they like Harry Bosch, not because the plots are fantastic. It’s about Harry Bosch, so as long as we keep that, I don’t really care where we go.
And from the standpoint of being a writer, I like reinvention. When I am so intensely involved with writing my books I don’t like to reread them. I feel like that story is done. So what’s kept me involved and excited about this show is that we’re rethinking how to tell these stories. Some of it is required because we’re advancing him 20 years, but for the most part, it’s really about how we separate the point of view.
And I’m really happy about that, so I can’t think of anything that’s disappointing. I was trying to think of something or make something up for you! My favorite book happens to be “Last Coyote,” and we cover that in this season in one episode. When you say that you must think, “Wow, you must have given that the short shrift.” But the emotional story is contained in a 45-minute episode, and I’m very happy about it. I’m curious to see if fans are disappointed that I covered a whole book in one episode. But from my standpoint, it worked out pretty well.
What kind of reaction have you guys heard about Season 1, and has any of it stuck with you?
EO: You know, Mike was very smart. He never really described Harry in the books. In an early book, he’s small and wiry, but otherwise [there isn’t much description of Harry’s appearance]. I was a big fan of the books, and I always imagined that he looked like Mike because Mike’s picture was on the cover. So I always thought it was a big guy. I don’t track it as close as you do, but as far as I know the basic fan reaction to Titus [Welliver] was great.
HB: It was one of the biggest things for me. I very much tracked it because I was interested and I was nervous for all these reasons, and one of the great things with Amazon is that through their comment section you can look at people’s reviews. And I remember those first 24 hours. [The reviews] come in one after the other. It was like, “Wow, this is really good. I never thought about Titus Welliver, but he is perfect.” And we captured the world of Harry and the books and we were true to LA which is such an important part. I think that feedback, which was massive — to this day I think it’s 72,000 reviews on Amazon.
HB: Yeah, 72,000 and you can filter out the ones and the fives [meaning one-star reviews and five-star reviews]. When you look at the threes and fours, and even the twos, that’s where you get the true feedback. We really managed — I think we can say proudly — to pull off making a really good adaptation, that the audience of Michael’s book loved and then, people who have never heard about Harry Bosch or Michael Connelly, they can go “Wow! This is a great crime show!”
MC: It was helpful. I mean we’re not ignoring that stuff. I think we made two minor changes, based on fan responses to the pilot under the testing process.
What were those?
MC: Just that people were saying he was too profane [and that that] didn’t match the books. So we cut some of the f-bombs. [laughs]
EO: [laughs] Although Titus did put a lot of them back in.
MC: It was kind of wrong, but we took it as a note. People were upset that he was smoking all the time, but he did smoke all the time in the first five books, and then he quit. So we just said, “Let’s advance him trying to stop smoking and make that a character thing, that he could want to have a smoke.” And I don’t know if we would have gotten into that if we didn’t get a lot of response in those two reports.
Do you guys get feedback directly from Amazon? Do you guys get any numbers from them in terms of viewership data?
HB: What we get is that we have a nice dinner with [Amazon’s] Roy [Price], have a couple of drinks and he says, “Guys, you’re doing really well. I’m very proud of you and your numbers are everything we expected and more, and we’re on par with a high cable channel show.”
HB: That’s what we get. […] Roy has said as much as that we are doing very well and we are on par with a cable show. A well-rated cable show. Then we get a lot of feedback in general — that they really like the show. They are a very good studio to work with. They are low in notes. The few notes we do get from them we honestly can say have been really good.
EO: That was a pleasant surprise. We were worried we were just getting the usual network thing except in a different delivery system. But they’ve been great.
MC: They have a real trust in us as the creators of this. To trust our judgment, which is really nice.
Getting into Season 2 a little bit — obviously, the construction of it is such a huge thing. Mr. Connelly, you mentioned how you used a whole book in one episode, and you’ve got other elements of other books in there, too. What’s the process like when you’re breaking the season and you’re deciding what to include to build the arc? Do you start with the arc and see what fits in there from the stories you already told and then fill in the rest or do you start with a book and say, “Let’s expand on this?” How do you guys go about creating the season arc?
MC: I can’t remember.
MC: Alright, well, we established Harry. Now let’s see him in the family dynamic. His family lives in Vegas so it became a quick choice to go with a book called “Trunk Music” because that’s where Harry goes over there. So that suddenly became the spine and then it was, “What do we attach to it?” I shouldn’t have said we covered “Last Coyote” in one episode, but there’s been a build up to that. So I wanted to conclude that somewhere in the season. I said to Eric, “That’s the episode I want to write because that’s my favorite book.” So we attached “Last Coyote,” but we didn’t know where it was going to be in the season. Then we get into a room — and it was just really just those two — we bring in the writers and we’re talking. He and I wrote out a loose 50 or 40-page outline. I don’t even think it was even broken up by episodes.
EO: It was kind of a narrative document.
MC: This is where we want the season to go, and then I think it becomes like a traditional writers’ room. You know, three-by-five cards on the wall and three-by-five cards coming off the wall because we went the wrong way on something and then it came back. So we just kind of went from there and then we eventually felt that we needed another strand of story, so we bring in the stuff where they — you said you saw the first episode — chase the guy, the serial killer suspect.
EO: I think that was actually a suggestion from Roy Price.
MC: Only after looking at that 40 to 50-page thing, and we all said, “One extra thing has to go into this recipe.”
EO: And we were also looking to give Lance [Reddick] something to do. So we took an element from “The Drop” and changed it, but it developed into a good story for Lance’s character, Irving. So it’s a process.
When do you make that decision within the overall process? Did you wait until you got the Season 2 order and then you guys were like, “What are we going to do with it?” Or right now do you guys have a larger arc in mind for what will happen in [Season] 3 and 4?
EO: We just started talking about Season 3. We’ve been talking about a few books and I think we’ve narrowed it down to a particular book.
This is early, and I don’t necessarily expect you guys to do this, but do you think about the end? Do you think about how you might have to end this show at some point down the line?
EO: Harry Bosch just goes on and on.
MC: No, we haven’t. I mean, I don’t even do that with the books.
HB: Since the universe lives in two parallels, I think no because — just speaking out loud, because we never discuss anything — whenever the TV show starts losing steam, hopefully after 10 seasons or whatever, when we feel like it’s time to conclude the show, Michael will probably still be writing the Harry Bosch books. So I don’t see us killing Harry or anything like that. It’s an ongoing universe. Harry will always be out there, doing what Harry does.
EO: If you’re a real fan of the books, there are interesting differences in the two parallels. In the books, Eleanor, his ex-wife, is dead. And she’s very much alive in our show.
MC: Just to go back to that process question — we always forget to do this — we can’t undervalue this but we have two real LAPD homicide detectives who are in our writing room. Every time they come in things change because they’re better storytellers than all of us, and they’ll talk about real-life experiences sometimes two days after it happened. It just gets everyone inspired and invigorated and we find ways of moving that stuff in. So our 40-page outline didn’t have anything about terrorism in it, and then they caught a terrorism related case and they told us about it. That then went into the show and it became a big part of the show. So it is a constantly changing process that eventually we lock down when we write the scripts.
There are a lot of cop shows, but what separates them from each other? There’s a lot of things in “Bosch” that separate it from other cop shows but for you guys, if you had to talk about the tone of it, what would the tone be to you? What would you describe this is as?
HB: I think it’s a contemporary noir.
EO: Yeah, that’s a good word for it.
HB: We’re doing a fictional show, of course, but we make sure that we have consulted. If we’re going to have a coroner person, we make sure we really talk to them so we make small things as accurate as they ever can be, which gives us a lot of wiggle room. Especially from the story perspective when we have to do something that is not plausible, really. Sometimes the story and the character dictate that we make a big leap of faith, but because we’re so meticulous about the small details even cops or anyone who would look at the show would go, “Oh this is how my life is.” Yes, it’s compressed in time and maybe most cops don’t catch as many high profile cases as Harry does, but they’ve all had one of those cases and then it’s like, “Holy shit, that’s exactly how it goes.”
EO: That’s a good point, the reception to the books by the law enforcement community has always been great. It was for the show. […] But there are things that cops have to do, and if we did them all it’d be very boring.
EO: Which of these 12 things can we do to stand for this other stuff? And we make sure to do that right.
MC: Deadly accurate is deadly boring so we really have, like, a hyper accuracy to it. What adds to that and the tone is that these detectives are not only engaged in the storytelling but they’re our ambassadors. We’ve been able to shoot in the real crime labs. I don’t know if it’s in the first episode you watch but when they process the Bentley that the guy is found in, those are the real lab techs — those aren’t actors — in the real auto garage at the lab. It’s all real stuff. We shot in a real coroner’s office. The big crypt that has something like 80 bodies in it? Those are all real bodies. So we’ve enjoyed this fantastic access. And it feeds on itself. They’ve seen the first season and they’ve said, “These guys are striving to get it right. So yeah, we’ll help you get it right.” And we get approval to shoot at the memorial, at the police headquarters, we had access to that. So just about every episode has one of these things that we’re preening, because we don’t think other cop shows get to do this.
“Bosch” Season 2 is streaming now on Amazon Prime.