Syfy’s ‘Magicians’ Offers Tip of the Hat to Harry

If the Syfy series The Magicians, about a brilliant student who enrolls in a secret university for wizards, feels a bit like Harry Potter, well, it’s supposed to, says Sera Gamble, an executive producer on the show. The series is an adaptation of Lev Grossman’s popular fantasy trilogy, which counts the Harry Potter series as a huge influence.

“The idea for The Magicians came as he was waiting for the next Harry Potter book, and it was taking too f***ing long,” says Gamble, who co-wrote the pilot. The influence of the J. K. Rowling novels on the books, and the series, she adds, “was a knowing one.”

The Magicians debuts Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. Syfy offered a preview Dec. 16.

Grossman has been a trusted sounding board in the adaptation. “He reads the scripts before our bosses do, he see the cuts before our bosses do,” she says. “We are very transparent with him about the process. We ask his advice all the time and he sends us really thoughtful, interesting, good notes.”

Grossman is a book critic at Time Magazine; his trilogy encompasses The Magicians, The Magician King and The Magician’s Land. Gamble says the TV series follows “the same general roadmap” as the trilogy, with “slightly different roads than Lev did in the books.”

Countless authors have had their hearts broken after selling their babies to Hollywood. John Irving, for one, wrote the book My Movie Business about his experience with adaptations, including the 13 years it took to get The Cider House Rules to the big screen.

Perhaps inevitably, there have been differences of opinion between The Magicians producers and the author. “My perception is, it doesn’t come from [Grossman] feeling we are diverting from the book,” says Gamble. “He really takes the ideas from the show on their own merit and understands we’re making a version, an iteration, an adaptation…We have a writer-to-writer conversation about it.”

A former executive producer on Supernatural, Gamble says the producers have been extraordinarily disciplined in bringing the project home on budget. “We don’t have any room to waste in terms of time or money,” she says. “We put every line on every page through bootcamp before we shoot it. Hopefully that makes the end product better and more exciting.”

Gamble says she grew up on classic fairy tales, from Grimm’s to TheChronicles of Narnia. As a kid, she even wrote her own.

“I was kind of born ready to do this show,” she says.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.