Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety executive TV editor Daniel Holloway chats with “Good Omens” showrunner Neil Gaiman.
The television version of “Good Omens” was a long time in the making. Multiple attempts at screen adaptations of the novel — about an angel and demon working to stave off the end of the word — were made shortly after its 1990 publication. None, however, got off the ground until the new six-episode miniseries, which premieres May 31 on Amazon. Gaiman, who wrote the novel with Terry Pratchett, exec produced and served as showrunner on the program.
Back in the 1980s, Gaiman had written the beginning of the novel — his first attempt at the form — and sent it to a few friends, Pratchett included, for feedback. Then, as he put it, “life got in the way,” and he set the project aside. Some time later, he was just a few issues into his much-loved comic-book series “Sandman,” when Pratchett reached out to him.
“I get a call from Terry saying, ‘You know, that thing you sent me — are you doing anything with it? Because I know how it goes. You can either sell me the idea and what you’ve written so far, or let’s write it together,’” Gaiman said. “And I’m like, ‘Let’s write it together.’ Because I knew how good Terry was, and I knew that I was a baby.” The process, he added, “was like being apprenticed to a master craftsman.”
They sold the novel in 1989. Shortly after, Gaiman said, the two began talking about what a next installment to the book might look like. Pratchett died in 2015 and the sequel was never written, but it did, Gaiman said, have a title — “668: The Neighbor of the Beast.”
“A lot of the trappings and the idea of what propelled book two into existence wound up integral to what I did in ‘Good Omens’ the TV series,” Gaiman said. In the first book, he added, “We never see hell and we never see heaven. We never actually see the people behind the scenes who are very, very keen on Armageddon.”
Those characters are, however, seen in the “Good Omens” miniseries. Michael Sheen and David Tennant play the protagonists, angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley, respectively. Jon Hamm, in his first series work since “Mad Men,” plays Aziraphale’s boss.
“I got the lovely, wonderful Jon Hamm to play the angel Gabriel and sell you on the whole thing,” Gaiman said. “I don’t know if it would have been as easy without Jon.” When Gaiman came up with the idea for Gabriel, who is not in the novel, “I just though, ‘Well, he has to be the best looking, best dressed, convinced of his own rightness boss you’ve ever had, and it doesn’t even occur to him in any universe that he could be wrong about anything. And who do I know that could actually play that and pull it off?’”
Gaiman wrote to Hamm.
“I sent him an email, saying, ‘Dear Jon Hamm, some years ago you told me that ‘Good Omens’ was your favorite book when you were in college and that it was unfilmable, and I have made the mistake of turning it into television, and would you mind playing Gabriel? He isn’t in the book.’”
Gaiman received a simple response. The actor wrote back, “Yes,” and signed the email “HAMM” in capital letters — “which is how Jon Hamm signs everything,” Gaiman said.
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