Terry Pratchett’s Influence On the Good Omens TV Show
We talked to Neil Gaiman and director Douglas Mackinnon about the responsibility of adapting Good Omens after Terry Pratchett's death.
The Good Omens TV show, an adaptation of the beloved novel from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, is a joyous development for any Good Omens fan… but it’s a sad one, too, as Pratchett, who died in 2015, will not be here to see it come to the screen in all of its weird and wonderful glory.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Pratchett wasn’t a part of the process of finally getting this book the TV show treatment. He was the one who asked Gaiman to do it, shortly before his death. When Pratchett’s health declined much faster than anyone expected, Gaiman set to work making the TV show, even though his friend and collaborator would never see it.
read more: Good Omens TV Show Review (Spoiler-Free)
“I came back from his funeral and started writing the first episode of Good Omens,” Gaiman told Den of Geek and other press gathered at New York Comic Con, “and trying to convince myself that it was funny, and trying to find the funny in what I was doing, and having a very rough time for that very first draft for the first episode.”
Gaiman said he missed his friend especially during the writing process.
“There would be two different phenomena going on,” he said. “One of which was, if I got stuck, which I did from time to time during the writing process, what I had always done before on Good Omens when I was writing it, if you get stuck you phone Terry. And either, you send him what you’ve done so far and you send him up to where you got stuck. And he looks at it and carries on liking it, or he phones you up and he says, ‘The answer, Grasshopper, is in the way you ask the question.’ And you go,'”Terry, don’t be irritating. Just tell me what you think.’
For Gaiman, the writing process was an ever-present reminder that he could no longer call up his friend.
“I couldn’t do that, and I also couldn’t phone him up when I solved the problems and felt very proud of myself and just said something clever,” continued Gaiman. “[Because] the other fun bit [of writing Good Omens] was impressing Terry. When you write a book normally, you have kind of an imaginary audience in your head. When you make a TV show you have an imaginary audience in your head. When I wrote my bits of Good Omens, the novel I was writing was for a very specific audience of Terry Pratchett. Could I make him laugh? Could I make him say ‘That’s a good book’? That was my standard, and I think his was the same for me.”
Director Douglas Mackinnon, who is behind the camera for all six episodes of the Good Omens TV show, was Gaiman’s partner in bringing this book to the screen.
“I never met Terry, but I felt his presence everyday on the set because the thing we were trying to do was honor the book,” said Mackinnon. “It was written by the two of them, so we couldn’t do anything else but honor him.”
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Pratchett is represented in the story, of course, but Mackinnon also made sure that he was represented on the set, including by placing Pratchett’s hat in Aziraphale’s bookshop. Past that, Mackinnon worked hard to keep himself ignorant about which parts of Good Omens were written by Gaiman and which were written by Pratchett.
“I never asked [Neil] at all who wrote which bits because I didn’t want to get… That’s kind of Neil’s business with Terry and I didn’t want to get either sentimental for something that I couldn’t … I didn’t want to get confused by that. I just wanted to do the book.”
While Gaiman and Pratchett had an agreement that they wouldn’t tell anyone which parts they’d each written, there was always one exception each: Gaiman would be able to tell people that he’d written the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, while Pratchett would be able to tell people that he’d written Agnes Nutter and the death of Agnes Nutter. This affected Gaiman’s own priorities when writing and producing the TV show.
“When I wrote the script, it was very important to me that I got to dramatize the whole sequence of the death of Agnes Nutter,” said Gaiman. “We had some producers on, early in the show, who didn’t quite get the show. And they were like, ‘This Agnes Nutter Stuff, can we do it with cutouts, or puppets, or just a voiceover [and woodcuts]? And I was like, ‘No, this is Terry’s bit, and if I do it with woodcuts and a voiceover, the ghost of Terry Pratchett will haunt me until I die.’ And, he was a humanist who didn’t even believe in ghosts so it makes it even worse.”
Gaiman was happy to say that the Good Omens production got to explode their first witch on Halloween of last year.
Good Omens is currently available to watch on Amazon.
Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.