Young People Discover Hot New Writer—Agatha Christie

From The Wall Street Journal:

Agatha Christie became famous in the 1920s as a mystery writer.

For younger generations, she’s the next hot thing.

Shashwata Roy, a 17-year-old fan of space and computers, tweeted in March that Ms. Christie’s 1926 novel “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” is an “absolute must read…review coming up.”

The student in Kolkata said he planned to read all her novels. “The unique way of storytelling is something I think is very rare nowadays,” he said.

The British author may be long gone, but her fictional whodunits—often solved by an elderly British lady or a fussy Belgian detective—have made her a star with fans more used to streaming Marvel movies or scrolling through TikTok—where videos labeled with the tag #AgathaChristie have racked up more than 26 million views.

“Agatha is sparking with younger readers, and I don’t see that with any other writer from her period,” said Devin Abraham, owner of the Once Upon A Crime mystery bookstore in Minneapolis. Customers who ask for books by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett—both contemporaries of Ms. Christie—are generally in their 50s or 60s, said Ms. Abraham.

. . . .

“Who’s that? I have never heard of Raymond Chandler,” said Ari DiDomenico, a 17-year-old Christie fan in San Diego. She said classic novelists, such as Jane Austen, didn’t hold her attention since the “language was too old-timey.”

“Agatha Christie’s writing style is more to the point, and the pacing works really well,” she said.

The jump in interest can be traced to the 2017 movie version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” featuring Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It “was game changing,” said James Prichard, the chief executive officer of Agatha Christie Ltd., which manages the literary and media rights to the author’s works. “Sales went up for all the books.” (There was also a spike in popularity following the 1974 movie version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” said Mr. Prichard, who is Ms. Christie’s great-grandson.)

“Death on the Nile,” which also starred Mr. Branagh as Poirot and an ensemble of young movie stars in a sexy tale of double-cross and murder, came out this year and has grossed more than $137 million globally, according to Box Office Mojo.

. . . .

Sales of Agatha Christie books in the U.S. rose 39% in the first quarter from last year’s period, according to book tracker NPD BookScan.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Demand for TV rights ‘never been higher’

From The Bookseller:

In an overcrowded market with the proliferation of streaming platforms alongside the traditional broadcaster, creating content based on previous IP is an ever-growing trend . . . Not that it wasn’t a trend before, it’s just that IP generation (writing a book, creating a podcast, a YouTube series) has never been as accessible or opportunity-filled as it is today. Books still have the lion’s share of the source material market for TV and cinema adaptation. But not all books are created equal when it comes to adaptability. 

Some genres are more easily transferrable to the screen and tend to create a better connection between the source audience and the series viewers. Classics of world literature still retain the trophy when it comes to literary adaptations. 

Across genres, from Jane Austen to Bram Stoker, these stories have been revisited time and time again in the visual medium, allowing younger generations to discover them anew.

Every time a new “Dracula”, a new “Pride and Prejudice”, a new “Frankenstein” or “Sherlock” hit the screen, the original texts are looked at with fresh eyes, as curiosity around the source material is reinvigorated, and audiences revisit the original books to discover those nuances that can only exist in the written form. It is definitely true that you can make one book from a series, but a thousand series from a book.

When it comes to new titles, thrillers reliably make promising adaptation fuel. The booming of new authors in the thriller space and the insatiable global appetite for crime stories that has always characterized fans of television series are a match made in heaven. From the most established and well-recognised IP to the newcomers, content providers have always been eager to turn a “page-turner” into a bingeable series. From HBO’s “Sharp Objects” (Gillian Flynn) or “Big Little Lies” (Liane Moriarty), to “The Haunting of Hill House” (Shirley Jackson), from “Hannibal” (Thomas Harris) to “The Alienist” (Caleb Carr), watching a series based on a thriller novel has never been so satisfying. 

Fantasy, however, is probably the genre that benefits the most when it comes to screen adaptation. From the gothic saga of “The Originals” to the modern tale of “Discovery of Witches”, from the epic battles of “Game of Thrones” to the generational conflicts of “His Dark Materials, thanks to the evolving world of CGI and special effects, it’s become increasingly possible to bring to life with staggering precision and realism the worlds we imagined in the page. But the bigger the book, the bigger the responsibility of those who adapt it: for if a book has managed to captivate thousands of fans around the world, one needs to be very cautious and respectful when it comes to translating onto the screen, so as not to lose the connection that the readers have with the original story. It also of course comes with the unique opportunity of attracting a completely new pool of fans, and producers should be equal parts thrilled and humbled by the prospect of transforming a beloved fantasy book into something that can grace screens the world over.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says this trend is all the more reason for authors to hold on to their subsidiary rights or, if traditionally-published, bump the royalty rates up for subrights or negotiate for an increasing percentage of subsidiary rights as gross income to the publisher from subrights hits certain revenue levels.

Most books, indie or traditional, aren’t adapted for motion pictures or televisions, but if lightning strikes with a big subrights deal, it will almost certainly because the author did a great job of writing the book instead of the publisher doing better than usual in selling print and ebook rights.

Hollywood Loves Books

From Marie Claire:

When author and illustrator Ariella Elovic drafted her book proposal for Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir, she never considered that the graphic memoir about body acceptance might one day become a television series. Growing up, her biggest insecurities were her visibly hairy arms, sideburns, unibrow, and upper lip hair; as a young adult, she created an illustrated alter-ego to help her process all of the ways her body was changing. When she signed with literary agent Meredith Kaffel Simonoff of DeFiore and Company, the agent offhandedly noted that she could see the world of Cheeky expanding on a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu. After the book was finished, Simonoff’s coagent at United Talent Agency (UTA)—one of the four major Hollywood talent agencies—presented Cheeky at a general meeting where talent agents brainstorm creative partnerships between their clients. Throughout the summer of 2020, Elovic, 30, took the resulting one-on-one phone calls with actors, directors, and showrunners looking for a partner with whom she clicked creatively. She hit it off with an established comedian. “It basically felt like what we would create together would be a really strong combination of our two brains,” Elovic says. Though the partnership has yet to be announced, the pair are working with a production company on a “mini-pilot” to pitch to streaming services. A few weeks ago, the author quit her day job as a project manager at Paperless Post. It’s a big commitment, she says, but “I figured at some point, I [would] have to quit my job to help prep material. I’m going to want to give it my all.”

Cheeky was not a bestseller, celebrity book club pick, or runaway hit at launch. It received positive reviews and a decent amount of attention. Its Hollywood prospects are not noteworthy because of being extraordinary, but rather, increasingly ordinary. In 2020 alone, streamers produced 532 new television shows. Their appetite for content is fueling a golden age of adaptations, according to Michelle Weiner, head of the books department at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which includes the book-to-film department and the publishing group. “The volume of film and television being produced has increased dramatically,” she says. “A book is one of the greatest story bibles”—what TV producers use to track details about characters, plots, and more—“that a television show or a film can have. It has a fully-fleshed-out plot, highly sophisticated characters, and, often, a very inventive world.” As a result, there is more opportunity than ever for authors who wish to adapt their work for the big (or small, or even pocket-sized) screen.

Every year, the streaming industry becomes even hungrier for intellectual property to adapt. “What Hollywood needs is more and more content because of all the outlets,” says Knopf editor-at-large Peter Gethers, who previously ran Penguin Random House’s book-to-film department and now co-produces projects for Universal Studios, STUDIOCANAL, and Food Network. But in many cases, before studios buy the rights to a book, they “need some form of validation, so they know something is good.”

Of course, production companies, like readers, can make judgements via reviews and The New York Times bestseller list. But increasingly, producers look to celebrity book clubs to help figure out which titles could become blockbuster streaming hits. CAA—an agency that represents not only authors but also screenwriters, directors, and some of Hollywood’s top actors—has worked with clients such as Reese Witherspoon and Emma Roberts to create those book clubs. Weiner calls the platforms “a win for every aspect of our business,” because the featured authors increase their audience sizes, while their projects become attractive to film and television buyers who then feel like they’re investing in a project that has a larger, built-in viewership. (It sounds like a circular system because it is.)

Link to the rest at Marie Claire

How Hollywood’s biggest stars lost their clout

From The Economist:

HOLLYWOOD LABOUR disputes have a certain theatrical flair. When Scarlett Johansson sued Disney in July, claiming she had been underpaid for her role in “Black Widow”, the studio launched an Oscar-worthy broadside against the actress’s “callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the covid-19 pandemic”. In September film crews marched to demand better conditions, brandishing placards designed by America’s finest prop-makers. And when WarnerMedia decided to release “Dune” on its streaming service on the same day it hit cinemas on October 21st, the movie’s director, Denis Villeneuve, huffed magnificently that “to watch ‘Dune’ on a television… is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub.”

The streaming revolution has sent money gushing into Hollywood as studios vie to attract subscribers. Netflix boasts its content slate in the fourth quarter will be its strongest yet, with new titles such as “Don’t Look Up”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the final season of “Money Heist”, a Spanish bank-robbing saga. On November 12th Disney will announce its latest commissioning blitz, with new shows for Disney+ expected to include “Star Wars” and Marvel spin-offs. In total streaming firms’ content spending could reach $50bn this year, according to Bloomberg.

Yet despite the largesse it is a turbulent time in Tinseltown, as everyone from A-list stars to the crew who style their hair goes to war with the film studios. Some of the disputes have arisen from the pandemic, which has upended production and release schedules. But the tension has a deeper cause. As streaming disrupts the TV and movie business, the way that talent is compensated is changing. Most workers are better off, but megastars’ power is fading.

Start with the pandemic. As cinemas closed, studios scrambled to find screens for their movies. Some, like MGM’s latest James Bond flick, were delayed by more than a year. Others were sent to streaming platforms—sometimes without the agreement of actors or directors. Those whose pay was linked to box-office revenues were compensated, either behind the scenes (as WarnerMedia did in the case of “Dune”) or after very public spats (as with Disney and Ms Johansson).

Yet even before covid, streaming was changing the balance of power between studios and creatives. First, there is more cash around. “There’s an overwhelming demand and need for talent, driven by the streaming platforms and the amount of money that they’re spending,” says Patrick Whitesell, executive chairman of Endeavour, whose WME talent agency counted Charlie Chaplin among its clients. Three years ago there were six main bidders for new movie projects, in the form of Netflix and the five major Hollywood studios. Now, with the arrival of Amazon, Apple and others, there are nearer a dozen. Streamers pay 10-50% more than the rest, estimates another agent.

Below-the-line workers, such as cameramen and sound engineers, are also busier. Competition among studios has created a “sellers’ market”, says Spencer MacDonald of Bectu, a union in Britain, where Netflix makes more shows than anywhere outside North America. In the United States the number of jobs in acting, filming and editing will grow by a third in the ten years to 2030, four times America’s total job-growth rate, estimates the Bureau of Labour Statistics.

The streamers’ hunger for variety means their seasons have half as many episodes as broadcast shows, and are less frequently renewed. That means “people are having to hustle for work more often,” says one script supervisor. A fatal accident on the set of “Rust”, a movie starring Alec Baldwin, has stirred a debate about safety amid the frantic pace of production. But the streamers’ short, well-paid seasons allow more time for CV-burnishing side-projects, and the work is more creatively rewarding. “Netflix and Apple both nominate every role, in every category they can” for awards, reports one set-designer—who adds that the price of that can be 90-hour weeks. IATSE, a union which represents 60,000 below-the-line workers in America, has reached an agreement with studios for better pay and conditions; its members will begin voting on the deal on November 12th.

More controversial is the streamers’ payment model, which is creating new winners and losers. Creative stars used to get an upfront fee and a “back end” deal that promised a share of the project’s future earnings. For streamers, a show’s value is harder to calculate, lying in its ability to recruit and retain subscribers rather than draw punters to the box office. Studios also want the freedom to send their content straight to streaming without wrangling with a star like Ms Johansson whose pay is linked to box-office takings. The upshot is that studios are following Netflix’s lead in “buying out” talent with big upfront fees, followed by minimal if any bonuses if a project does well.

That suits most creatives just fine. “Buy-outs have been very good for talent,” says Mr Whitesell. “You’re negotiating what success would be… for that piece of content, and then you’re getting it guaranteed to you.” Plus, instead of waiting up to ten years for your money, “you’re getting it the day the show drops”. America’s 50,000 actors made an average of just $22 per hour last year, when they weren’t parking cars and pumping gas, so most are happy to take the money up front and let the studio bear the risk. Another agent confides that some famous clients prefer the streamers’ secrecy around ratings to the public dissection of box-office flops.

For the top actors and writers, however, the new system is proving costly. “People are being underpaid for success and overpaid for failure,” says John Berlinski, a lawyer at Kasowitz Benson Torres who represents A-listers. The old contracts were like a “lottery ticket”, he says. Create a hit show that ran for six or seven seasons and you might earn $100m on the back end; make a phenomenon like “Seinfeld” and you could clear $1bn.

A few star showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes, a producer of repeat TV hits currently at Netflix, can still swing nine-figure deals. But creators of successful shows are more likely to end up with bonuses of a couple of million dollars a year. And though actors are receiving what sound like huge payments for streamers’ movies—Dwayne Johnson is reportedly getting $50m from Amazon for “Red One”, for example—in the past they could make double that from a back-end deal.

. . . .

But their unwillingness to venerate A-listers also has an economic rationale. The star system, in which actors like Archibald Leach were transformed into idols like Cary Grant, was created by studios to de-risk the financially perilous business of movie-making. A blockbuster, which today might cost $200m to shoot plus the same in marketing, has one fleeting chance to break even at the box office. The gamble is less risky if a star guarantees an audience.

Today, studios are de-risking their movies not with stars but with intellectual property. Disney, which dominates the box office, relies on franchises such as Marvel, whose success does not turn on which actors are squeezed into the spandex leotards. Amazon’s priciest project so far is a $465m “Lord of the Rings” spin-off with no megastar attached. Netflix’s biggest acquisition is the back-catalogue of Roald Dahl, a children’s author, which it bought in September for around $700m.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG suggests filing this item under “Disruptive Technology Innovation.”

From the viewers’ standpoint, in the old days, if you wanted to see a new movie, you had to make certain you made it to the theater during the film’s first run. If you missed that, you were relegated to watching it on a 27-inch television set with a speaker that cost the manufacturer $3.00.

Once in a blue moon, a giant hit would have a second run so those who missed the first release and those who hated how the videocassette version looked on the small screen could see it on a bit screen with great sound.

Appointments are no longer necessary to watch big-time movies on a big screen with great sound.

Large-screen LED, a soundbar with woofer (or surround sound if you’re really picky) and a reasonably fast internet connection and you can have a better experience than you can at a ten (maybe twenty) year-old theater. And you can have it exactly when you want to see it and watch it all over again with great image and sound quality whenever you want to.

For those who say, “PG, the screen in a theater is much larger than any megabuck LED TV,” PG says, “You’re absolutely right, but how far away is the theater screen from you compared to how far the LED TV is from you?”

Per PG’s quick and dirty online research, the average human has a field of vision of about 120 degrees. However, much of that span is peripheral vision, which is not how you want to watch a movie. Peripheral vision is mostly sensitive to movements and, to a lesser extent, color. You see something out of the corner of your eye, but you have to look at it directly to understand what it is.

If you want to read some text on your computer screen or in a book, you’ll realize that your visual span for reading is much less than 120 degrees.

PG is typing this on a 27-inch computer monitor. As he reads over the text, his eyes are going back and forth because he can’t perceive and process all the words in a single line of text on this monitor at the same time. Given the distance PG is sitting from his monitor, he has to move his eyes about 30 degrees back and forth to read and process the text.

Seeing and understanding an image requires less processing, so you have a larger field of vision, but, depending upon what the image is, you’ll still be moving your eyes around to fully understand the image.

Here’s a familiar image:

Depending on the size of your screen, you looked at the image in a different way. If you saw the image on a small screen (like a smart phone), you took in most of the image without moving your eyes a great deal. If you were looking at the image on a larger screen, you’ll likely notice that your eyes start by rapidly moving from place to face on the image in order to assess what it is.

For PG, his first perception was of the eyes, then the face, then down across the clothing and back and forth from the hands to the forearms.

After a second or two, if the image had disappeared and PG was asked to provide a detailed description of the background at various apparent distances behind the subject, PG could provide only a general sense of what was there.

As a matter of fact, while he was viewing the background, he discovered for the first time that there is a winding road at the left shoulder of the subject and a stone bridge spanning a river over the right shoulder.

Back to his original point – you can make the image or a streaming movie as perceptually large as you like by moving closer or farther aways from the from the screen.

For PG a maximum width of a screen that he could use for viewing a motion picture is about 60 degrees and he would definitely prefer a narrower angle if there was a lot of detailed visual information on the screen. If the information was moving and changing, a much narrower angle would be preferable.

He just checked with his home television and he sits where the screen occupies about 45 degrees of vision, pretty close to the degree of vision that his computer monitor when he is working.

Stillwater: Amanda Knox Reaction & Murder Case Controversy Explained

From ScreenRant:

It’s not strange for filmmakers to take inspiration from real-life people and events, but sometimes, the way these are handled in fiction does more harm to the people they are based on – such is the case of Stillwater, based on the Amanda Knox case and who has called out those involved for profiting off her controversial and complex case. The coronavirus pandemic forced studios to delay their releases and reorganize their schedules, and one of those movies that went through a couple of date changes is Stillwater, directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon. Stillwater is finally out, but not without a lot of controversy.

. . . .

Stillwater tells the story of Bill Baker (Damon), an unemployed oil rig worker from Oklahoma who sets out alongside a French woman called Virginie (Camille Cottin) to prove his convicted daughter’s, Allison (Abigail Breslin), innocence, who had spent four years in prison for the murder of her roommate. Stillwater premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021 and was released in theaters at the end of the month, but instead of making headlines for its quality, the movie has been involved in controversy for using Amanda Knox’s case as inspiration without her consent, with her calling out Damon and McCarthy on social media.

. . . .

Amanda Knox took Twitter to call out those behind Stillwater for using her story for profit and dragging her name into it for the sake of marketing. Knox explains that Stillwater has been marketed as being “inspired by the Amanda Knox saga”, focusing on the sensationalist side of what happened to her rather than on facts. Knox also explains how authorities and thus the media focused on building a specific image of her, even though she’s innocent and wasn’t involved in the murder she was accused of and continues to be linked to by the media. Of course, there’s also the fact that her story was used without her consent and fictionalized, once again painting her under the wrong light, with the movie “reinforcing an image of her as a guilty and untrustworthy person”. Knox also invited McCarthy and Damon to her podcast so they can clear all this up, but there hasn’t been a response from them yet.

. . . .

In 2009, Amanda Knox was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher, her roommate in Perugia, Italy. What led to that and what followed for years was a messy investigation by Italian authorities in which Knox and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele Sollecito, were portrayed in a negative light, leading to a lot of controversy as the interrogations and the overall investigation was put into question by U.S. lawyers and forensic experts. After a long and tiring legal process, during which Knox points out she had “near-zero agency” and no control over the image the media was building around her, Italy’s highest court exonerated Knox and Sollecito in 2015, but she had already spent almost four years in prison. Knox returned to the US, completed her degree, and wrote the book Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, and has worked as a journalist and activist ever since.

. . . .

Stillwater isn’t the first movie to take “inspiration” from Amanda Knox’s story, such as Lifetime’s Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy, for which Knox actually sued them over.

Link to the rest at ScreenRant

The Rise of Must-Read TV

From The Atlantic:

If you want a preview of next year’s Emmy Awards, just take a walk past your local bookstore. According to data drawn from Publishers Marketplace, the industry’s clearinghouse for news and self-reported book deals, literary adaptations to television have been on a steady climb. The site has listed nearly 4,000 film and television deals since it launched in 2000, and both the number and proportion of TV deals have increased dramatically in that same period. Last year, reported TV adaptations exceeded film adaptations for the first time ever.

. . . .

Literary adaptations are big business. For streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, they provide a reliable source of content for limited or multiseason series; Publisher’s Weekly reported in 2019 that Netflix was on a “book-buying spree,” and the company has shown no sign of slowing. Rotten Tomatoes cites 125 literary adaptations in development right now.

. . . .

All of this has had a profound effect on the literary world. As you might expect, becoming a TV show increases a novel’s popularity enormously. Adaptations can drive book sales, as in the case of this winter’s breakout hit Bridgerton. The Regency-era bodice-ripper is not alone: A number of backlist titles, such as The Queen’s Gambit, have enjoyed a late-in-life revival thanks to Netflix’s attention.

We see evidence of the adaptation effect in other measures of literary success as well. We compiled a list of about 400 21st-century novels that met certain criteria—inclusion in top-10 best-seller lists, critics’ picks, publishers’ comp titles, and so on. Within this group, a novel that becomes a show will receive about four times as many ratings on Goodreads.com as a novel that has never been adapted to TV or film. (Film still has a bigger effect, boosting a novel’s Goodreads ratings more than 1000 percent; TV nonetheless dramatically improves the fortunes of a novel.

. . . .

Television adaptations are influencing every stage of a book’s life, including how it’s acquired in the first place. Scouts from networks and streaming services are talking more and more with publishers about big- and small-screen options at earlier stages of negotiations, in many cases before the ink on a book deal is even dry. Production companies such as Anonymous Content are bringing publishing-industry veterans on staff, and agencies and scouting firms are hiring specialists in literary development. Clare Richardson, a senior scout for film and TV at Maria B. Campbell Associates, one of the firms that works with Netflix, told us, “An important part of my job is having long-standing connections with literary agents and editors—what they’re reading, what they’re liking, what’s working. I’m trying to dive deep and find things as early as possible.” Richardson adds that simultaneous submission—that is, when a book deal and a screen option are negotiated at the same time—is common. Writers, agents, and editors have more incentive than ever to craft novels with TV in mind. The system rewards the adaptable.

So we wondered what kinds of novels were most likely to end up on screen. What qualities—of genre, structure, or style—make a novel seem most adaptable? We coded our sample of contemporary fiction not only for what has been successfully brought to TV, but also for what producers and scouts have optioned in the belief that it could be.

Reviewing that larger sample, we noticed several common features that unite texts as seemingly disparate as A Visit from the Goon Squad (which Jennifer Egan herself said she modeled on The Sopranos),N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (all of which have been optioned for television). Although not every novel under contract for potential adaptation shares all of these features, they do seem to possess a consistent set of what we call “option aesthetics”: episodic plots, ensemble casts, and intricate world-building. These are the characteristics of contemporary fiction that invite a move from the printed page to the viewing queue.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

In Praise of “Murder, She Wrote,” My Pandemic Lullaby

From Electric Lit:

I’m watching Jessica in her red silks and ruffled neckline, and she’s getting to the bottom of it. She’s in Jamaica, where her friend’s violent, racist brother has been killed. Jessica is retrieving clues like she’s descending a staircase, one by one, she’s sliding doilies under doors and picking locks, she’s looking at blueprints, she’s noting the stain on the Frenchman’s handkerchief, she’s getting closer.

Each night, I’m lulled to sleep by this: asphyxiation, drownings, fatal blows and gunshot wounds. It wasn’t always this way. It started on a stormy and sleepless night, as the wind rattled the windows and shook icicles from the eaves.

. . . .

Insomnia introduced itself three months after the first lockdown, when the initial surface panic seeped into the deeper parts like snow into dirt. In May, I fought it in lopsided, hours-long battles. With sleeplessness came more uncertainty—which, for me as well as everyone, had already been in ample supply—and the dissolution of prior certainties like the division of night and day.  

A few months ago, my partner Alec and I were between houses. We packed all of our possessions into a storage unit and rented an Airbnb, to buy ourselves some time. On one of those first nights in the Airbnb, after a day spent scrolling real estate feeds, we sat down to watch Murder, She Wrote. For the first time since May—since ever, maybe—I started to drift off while sitting up, with my head on Alec’s lap, with the cat perched on the back of the couch behind me, chewing my hair. 

After a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote, I knew what to expect from the rest. There are two requirements for the plot of every episode: the first is that there’s a murder, and the second is that it’s solved. In the pilot episode, Jessica Fletcher is a widowed, retired schoolteacher in the small coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine, where she writes murder mysteries in her kitchen, for fun. The whirlwind commences when her nephew, of his own accord, takes one of Jessica’s novels to a publisher. It is published. It is a hit. Over the course of her press tour, Jessica encounters a cast of characters (after a few episodes, there will be no more characters, only suspects) and a murder. Calling upon the forensic expertise she’s absorbed from researching her novel, which invariably surpasses the competencies of the detective assigned to the case, Jessica solves the murder. Repeat. 

The comfort in Murder, She Wrote is in what is known. We know that there will be a murder, a motive, and a confession. Jessica uncovers the truth as if she’s brushing dust off a fossil. All it takes is time. 

But the comfort in Murder, She Wrote is also in what is not known, or in what is forgotten. After the pilot episode, the show proceeds with a gauzy amnesia that preserves its levity. Throughout the show’s twelve seasons, Cabot Cove’s population steadily succumbs to murder and incarceration: we watch the bookstore owner, the pawn shop owner, the pharmacist, the fisherman, the cop, the nurse, the accountant, the car salesman, the firefighter, and hundreds of other townspeople murder and get murdered, with such frequency that, if it were real, the town would have been the deadliest on earth. And yet, nothing appears to be lost. The town continues to function with no apparent closures; the shops remain open and bustling with customers. Cabot Cove’s small-town charm seems to supersede its homicide rates. I use the word charm literally: it’s as if the townspeople—friendly, trusting, quaint—have been spelled into forgetting that they could be next.  

Link to the rest at Electric Lit