Michael Connelly has a captivating voice.
Of course, the award-winning author of 27 novels — 17 of which feature LA homicide detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch — doesn’t need any verification of his alluring writing. Instead, it’s his actual voice that commands your attention when speaking to the creator (in every sense of the word) of “Bosch,” Amazon’s first original drama series. His tone is deep and gruff without being blunt or simplistic. Connelly speaks well, and his deep growl aptly illustrates the many years of experience he has dealing with the complex underbelly of the LAPD.
It’s this specific voice we need right now: the one that worked the crime beat first in Florida and then Los Angeles for nearly 15 years, the one that’s won accolades including the Edgar Award for his relatable and relevant tales of police serving their public, the voice of experience in a time when we need to keep history from repeating itself — again.
But is that the goal or even a conscious subject of the now-streaming TV series focused on a cop, his decisions in the field and his outlook on society? It would be easier to say no, as Welliver himself is quick to argue, but given the timing of the show’s debut and the real world parallels of its subject matter, “Bosch” is a voice in this discussion — willing or otherwise.
“Is it reflective of what’s going on in New York or Ferguson? I don’t know,” Connelly said to Indiewire. “I mean, it’s based off a book that was written in the shadow of the Rodney King case, so maybe, if anything, it shows that these issues come up cyclically and are never really resolved.”
Connelly along with producers Eric Overmyer, Henrik Bastin and series star Titus Welliver — all of whom spoke to Indiewire — are all quick to point out “Bosch” has been around far longer than the recent tension in Ferguson, MO, New York and across the United States.
“Obviously this whole thing was conceived, shot, [and] written before Ferguson, so we’re not trying to riff off of that or anything,” Connelly said.
But to rightly comprehend the momentous convergence of luck, timing and need — be it coincidental, ironic or otherwise — it’s necessary to look back much further than the events of 2014. The road to seeing “Bosch” on a screen instead of the page is long, beginning with a movie deal and ending with, of all things, nobility.
From Film to TV
“It’s about a 20-year journey,” Connelly said when asked to recap what happened with the long-anticipated film property based on Harry Bosch. “So I made a deal with Paramount way back then, 20 years ago, for [my first] three books to turn them into movies. And they tried. They had some Oscar-winning screenwriters working on them. They produced seven scripts. They even brought me in once to rewrite someone’s script. So there was a strong effort, but it all died at the script level.”
Some might think Connelly would hold a grudge over the repeated stops and starts leading to nothing in the film world, especially after watching a few episodes of the series. It’s then we find out Bosch keeps a framed poster of a film based on his life hanging prominently in his luxurious living space. It turns out that in the fictional reality of “Bosch,” Paramount succeeded in making a movie about him, and the rights to his story paid for the house he lives in, alone, with a 300-degree view of L.A. Still, Connelly has a similar view to Bosch in regards to the studio. He may not have liked the movie, but he doesn’t hold it against the studio.
“As much as the talent was involved in the scripts, you couldn’t read those scripts and go, ‘Yeah, that’s Harry Bosch.’ It was just a cop movie,” Connelly said. “And I couldn’t really blame Paramount — and later, they had a partnership with Sony on it — I couldn’t blame them for shelving it, because I don’t think the scripts touched what the character was about. And so, that was it. I really felt like I had kissed this opportunity goodbye.”
Of course, opportunity would come knocking again, and Connelly was ready when it did. He had learned a lot from the experience, not the least of which was about control. Be it owning the rights or deciding who to give them to, the author wasn’t about to sign away his work to the highest bidder. Outside of Bosch, Connelly has had two of his novels made into films. In 2002, Warner Bros. released “Blood Work” starring and directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, but it’s not the film adaptation the writer points to as his pride and joy.
“I knew this: That my power as the writer of these books ends as soon as I give them to somebody,” Connelly said. “So I have to be very careful and do a lot of vetting and due diligence before I give my books to someone. I had a film made of one of my books called ‘The Lincoln Lawyer.’ And I didn’t have anything to do with that film, but I had everything to do with it because I turned down a lot of money to take low money, because I believed in the producer — and so that was the lesson I learned from it.”
After waiting 12 years for Paramount’s option to expire on the rights, Connelly snatched them back up and started looking for another way to get Harry off the page and onto the screen.
“Now I’m standing there with 17 Harry Bosch books,” Connelly said. “And it seemed like I didn’t really have to think about it, or I didn’t really have to talk to advisors. It was like, ‘Do you want to make a quick killing and sell it for a lot of money for a movie, or do you want to do the best thing you could do for this character and that is seek an opportunity to show him over many, many hours?’ You know, this was when great serialized television was going on — ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire.’ To me, that was better than what was being put on movie screens, so really it was a very quick decision: ‘I gotta find the best way of getting this into serialized television.'”
Finding the Right People
Next came the meetings, in which Connelly developed a kind of “one and done” mantra, despite his previous leanings toward protection.
“I got a real 10 minute rule,” Connelly mentioned after telling the following story. “So my plan was to take my time, to draw up a list of things that are non-negotiable aspects about this deal, and then I would have my agents set up interviews with people who were interested. And it so happened that the first one was with Henrik, and I encountered that very rare thing: somebody who actually knew my books. And I have meetings all the time over my career with people who know [I] have sold a ton of books, and I’ve hit number one, but they don’t know the books. I was set up to meet lots of people, but instead I just ended it all and said, ‘I’m going to go with this guy.'”
When asked how he was so convincing, Bastin said “I knew there were a bunch of people in Hollywood who were going to go after these rights, and you know, I certainly didn’t have the biggest wallet of those players. So, from my end, I thought the only way I could differentiate [myself] is to really tell Michael how much I know and like this character — and there is this moment when Harry goes to a funeral for a cop, and there’s a rifle salute where they shoot, and he picks up the shell casings after, and he collects them and puts them in a jar — and that has been always a favorite moment of mine, and what I like about this character’s dedication. So, the night before, I took one of my rifle shells, went down to the garage, took out the bullet and emptied out the gunpowder. I brought it to Michael, and I think I said something like, ‘Details like this are really important to get the show right.’
“[Then] the two biggest questions were, who’s going to be the showrunner, and who’s going to play Harry Bosch,” Connelly said. “So you needed the showrunner before you got to that next question — even though it was the biggest question that we all faced — and I knew one showrunner, and it happened to be Eric Overmyer […] and that was another thing where 10 minutes into the conversation, he said, ‘I’m in. You guys want me, I’m in.’ So we were in.”
After a meeting with Amazon that also went according to Connelly’s 10 minute rule, it came time to find the face of Harry Bosch, and no one was taking the casting lightly.
“The part that we were all watching for was the reaction of the fan base to the first pilot, and if they would accept Titus or not,” Overmyer said. “We didn’t want the ‘Jack Reacher’ effect. We were pretty confident we weren’t going to have it, because when the casting was announced, on Michael’s website, a lot of people mentioned, ‘Well, thank God it’s not a Jack Reacher disaster.’ ‘Jack Reacher’ had just come out, and the backlash from the fan base was huge because they didn’t see Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher because of the physical difference. But 80 percent of Michael’s fan base was okay with Titus, theoretically, until they saw him in action. And once they saw the pilot, they went, ‘Ah, yes. Okay, good.'”
“When the great ones come along, you grab ’em,” Welliver said of accepting the role, adding that he’s done his fair share of “turkeys” and that “Bosch” isn’t one of them. “Years ago, I did an episode very early on in my career of ‘Beverly Hills 90210,’ and the next day I got a phone call from my father. He said, ‘I happened to catch that show, uh, ‘Hollywood 5070′ or whatever the hell it’s called.’ […] ‘Yeah, that was really awful.’ And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t watch it, but what was so…’ And he said, ‘No, you were good, but that’s absolutely the lowest common denominator. Why would you do that?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s a job and I gotta pay my rent.’ And my father said, ‘If you need money that badly, son, I’d be happy to lend you some. But don’t do anything like that again, because it’s bad for your soul.'”
Bad or Good Timing
After all of this — a decade trying to get a movie made, a 12-year wait for the rights, finding the right pieces and a make-or-break pilot season — “Bosch” was set to debut… just as police and public relations had reached quite possibly their worst point in the country’s history. The pilot episode, which premiered almost one year before Season 1’s release, opens with Bosch fatally shooting a suspect who’s kneeling a few feet away from him. Flashing forward to the court case, the prosecutor tries to convince the jury that the gun found at the scene was planted there, an idea Bosch strongly denies but is never confirmed to the audience, outside of an inherent trust in our protagonist.
With memories of the fatal assaults on Michael Brown and Eric Garner, as well as their ensuing trials still fresh in public consciousness, was it a stroke of bad luck that after 20 years of fighting to get “Bosch” on a screen — any screen — some audience members may refuse to watch because of its subject matter? Or was now the perfect time to continue a vital discussion about proper police conduct?
“We are showing, I think, a realistic view of the difficulty of the job. The deal that every cop makes, and that is: If you do it right, no one’s going to know, but if you do it wrong — or if it’s perceived you do it wrong — you’re going to be under the magnifying glass,” Connelly said.
Overmyer echoes the intended focus of the series. “I hope that some of the discussion is, ‘Jesus Christ. I don’t know what I would do if I were a police officer,'” he said. “There are some instances where somebody reaches for a cellphone, and they get shot. That’s a tragedy and the officer has to live with that when they have to make a split second decision. And then there are other cases of egregious misconduct, and the laws need to be reformed so that the legal basis for proceeding against those officers is different than it is now. The Ferguson stuff is nothing new, you know? It unfortunately happens all the time, and it has forever.”
And, according to one Connelly fan, he’s been discussing these issues for as long as he’s been writing novels. “If you go back and look at Michael’s books over the span of 20 years, [he’s] been dealing with similar [issues],” Bastin said. “With Rodney King, how that affected LA, that the police department in LA got under federal supervision for many, many years […] It’s been a part of [his] stories — although never the focal point — but it’s the political game surrounding Harry Bosch, and the fact that he doesn’t give a shit about that, and he’s a cop that no matter what the noise or the pressure, his only focus is on being a good cop. And I think that’s kind of the important thing. […] There’s bad cops and there’s good cops, and there’s bad people and there’s good people. This is the cop, I think, everybody in America wants to have [on the streets].”
“I think there’s a line in there at some point, when Deputy Chief Irving’s talking to Bosch, and Bosch just says, ‘Politics are above my pay grade,'” Connelly said. “Harry’s a grinder, and there’s something noble about that.”
Nobility is a valuable commodity these days, and Connelly has unquestionably earned the right to have his voice heard after spending a lifetime embedded in the world of police work. Time will tell if America is ready to listen.