The Five Spot: Harlan Coben, Executive Producer and Author

Harlan Coben has 31 novels to his credit, and a rapidly escalating number of TV series. The Stranger, based on his novel of the same name, starts on Netflix Jan. 30. Richard Armitage stars in a series about a guy living the perfect life with the perfect wife, until a stranger approaches him in a bar and reveals a shocking secret about her.

Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben

Coben has a deal with Netflix to develop 14 of his books into series and films. His next novel is The Boy from the Woods, which publishes March 17.

Will we see that one on Netflix?“I hope so,” Coben said. “Netflix owns the rights to it. No one has read it yet.”Coben spoke with Multichannel News contributing editor Michael Malone about how good adaptations happen, and why his new series may pop.

Does your deal with Netflix change the way you go about your novels? Zero, not at all. It’s a death wish if you write a novel thinking, ‘Oh, this will make a cool movie or adaptation.’ You’re usually dead in the water. A book is a book, a TV series is a TV series and a movie is a movie.

What’s key to a successful adaptation? Not to be slavishly devoted to the text. I think the more staid or stale adaptations occur because you’re just trying to exactly repeat the book.There’s a famous quote from James M. Cain, who wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. He was asked, don’t you hate what Hollywood did to your books? He said, ‘They did nothing to my books — they’re right there on the shelf.’When I’ve done my adaptations, I’ve usually been the one on the forefront of making changes. There are certain things that work better visually, and things that work better on paper. Part of my job is to separate those two.

What mistakes do you see authors making when they adapt their novels? Most novelists are really afraid to get involved, for obvious reasons. For the most part, when you option a book, it’s like letting somebody adopt your child. You have no more say in it. If the adaptation comes off poorly it has nothing at all to do with you.

What’s a book that you felt became a really good TV series?Game of Thrones stayed with the novel, and moved away from it, and some seasons did not have a novel to deal with.Dexter was quite different than the novels. I thought that show worked really well for a number of seasons.

What about The Stranger stands out? I haven’t binged a really great mystery crime drama, where I watch it all in a day or two and just get completely lost. I think The Stranger is that. I guarantee you’ll finish in a day or two — maybe three, depending on your schedule.

What’s on your DVR?You, Unbelievable, This Is Us
Favorite show of all time?The Simpsons. Wait, how about Lost? Or Hill Street Blues. Or Breaking Bad. Or The Sopranos.
Favorite podcast?Reply All, with PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman
What books are on your night table?The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates; Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece, Stephen Fry; A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
Favorite app? Furbo. I hit the app wherever I am, and it goes to a camera where I can see and talk to my dog Laszlo — and feed her treats remotely. Yes, really.

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, Playboy and New York magazine.