The road to Hollywood

by Tess Gerritsen

By the time you read this, I will be in Los Angeles.  I’m going there to watch the filming of the pilot TV episode of “Rizzoli”, which is based on characters from my crime series.  Even now, as I pack my suitcase, I’m marveling that it’s all actually happening. I don’t quite believe it.  I keep expecting to get a call from my agent telling me, “Never mind.  It’s all fallen apart.”  Because that’s the way it almost always goes.

 I should know, because I’ve been down this road of dreams before. And the one lesson I learned a long, long time ago is that Hollywood will break your heart.

It’s not that I haven’t had something produced before.  Back in 1993, CBS aired a TV movie of the week called “Adrift,” starring Kate Jackson and Bruce Greenwood.  The TV movie was based on a screenplay I’d written.  Although the script was changed, and two other writers were listed first as writers, I still got the “Story by” credit, and shared the screenplay credit.  The movie was filmed in New Zealand, and I didn’t have the money to fly down there and watch the production. But it was quite a thrill sitting in front of the TV some months later, seeing my name pop up on the credits, and watching scenes that I had dreamed up play out on the screen.  

And that was my lone success in Hollywood.  After that came sixteen years of disappointments.  

My first thriller, HARVEST, was bought outright by Paramount for a generous purchase price.  A screenplay was written, changing pretty much everything about the story.  The project died.

BLOODSTREAM was optioned.  Twice, I think.  Nothing happened. Project dead.

Feature film rights for GRAVITY were bought outright by New Line Cinema in a very major deal that showed up on the front page of Daily Variety.  Three different screenplay versions were completed, including one by the very talented Michael Goldenberg.  The film rights were later transferred to 20th Century Fox.  And there the project died.  Of course.

THE SURGEON was optioned twice.  And died.

THE APPRENTICE was optioned once.  And died.

I grew so jaded by the whole disappointing process that when my agent called to say that Bill Haber of Ostar Enterprises wanted an option to develop a TV series based on my characters, I didn’t see the point of celebrating.  I had no illusions that anything would come of this deal, either.  I had stopped paying attention to Hollywood.  My job was to write books, and that’s what I stayed focused on.

Then I began to notice that there was something a little different about this particular option deal.  For one thing, soon after the agreement was made, I got a call from the delightful Bill Haber himself.  He wanted to tell me how much he loved the characters of Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles.  He promised me they would make it to the screen exactly the way I’d created them.  He told me he was going to find just the right writer for the script, and that he believed this project was actually going to happen.

I thought he was funny, charming, and a bit deluded.  I knew how Hollywood worked.  It’s all about promises and bluster which, 99.9% of the time, never delivers.

A year went by.  

To my surprise, Ostar Enterprises renewed the option for yet another year.  Every few months, Haber would call just to say hello, and I loved hearing the enthusiasm and pure joie de vivre in his voice. He told me that he had convinced a writer named Janet Tamaro to tackle the pilot script. With writing credits on “Bones,” “Lost,” “CSI,” and “Sleeper Cell,” she is definitely a go-to writer for crime dramas.  I was delighted to be kept in the loop on all these developments. But I still didn’t let myself get excited.  I knew it just wasn’t going to happen.

Months went by.  

Then another call from Haber, happily announcing that after several revisions, Tamaro’s script was wonderful.  And they were sending it over to TNT’s director of programming for approval.  Fingers crossed!

Yeah, right, I thought.  My fingers are permanently crooked from staying crossed for sixteen years.  Come on, Hollywood, break my heart again. You know you’re going to.

I packed my bags and left for a long-planned trip to Turkey.  While there, I got a two-line email from my CAA film rights agent:  “Good news.  TNT has issued a cast-contingent production order for ‘Rizzoli.'” So there I am, on a sailboat off the Turkish coast, wondering whether it’s worth celebrating yet. I don’t like that word “contingent.”  To me, that’s just legalese for “we’re prepared to break your heart again.” 

When I get home, I call Bill Haber.  He says they’re preparing a list of actresses they want to approach for the part of Jane Rizzoli.  Without just the right actress, the whole deal would fall apart.  (Which is what I’m sort of expecting, anyway.)  My CAA agent assures me that they’ve landed a terrific director, and everything is moving in the right direction. I’ve heard that before.  I put the whole thing out of my mind, and get back to the manuscript that’s due in a few months.  

I leave for Connecticut, to speak to a library.  I wake up in my hotel room to find an alert on my Blackberry.  It’s an article from the Hollywood Reporter, announcing that Actress Angie Harmon has been cast in the lead role as Jane Rizzoli.

Suddenly, everything has changed.  This much I understand about Hollywood: once the star talent has signed on, the deal comes together fast.  And it does.  

Within the next few weeks, other actors sign on.  Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles.  Lorraine Bracco as Jane’s mother, Angela.  Bruce McGill as Detective Korsak.  Lee Thompson Young as Barry Frost.  Jordan Bridges as Frankie Rizzoli.  And Billy Burke as the all-important romantic lead, Gabriel Dean.

A month before production is scheduled to start, Janet Tamaro, who is now co-executive producer, calls to invite me to watch the filming.  

That’s when I really, really knew it was going to happen.

They’ve already started production. The shoot will last about 2 1/2 weeks, and I’ll be there during the second week of filming.  I’m fully aware that this is just the pilot, and TNT may choose not to pick it up as a weekly series.  But this is way, way beyond anything I ever expected. I assumed it would fall apart, as every film deal before it has.  I didn’t even bother to hope.  

Maybe it’s like finding true love.  The harder you look for it, hope for it, hunger for it, the less likely it is to happen.  But if you turn your back and just get on with your life — and your writing — suddenly, there it is. 

For once, Hollywood didn’t break my heart.


33 thoughts on “The road to Hollywood

  1. Alafair Burke

    You’ll have the rest of us crossing our fingers for you now so you can rest your hands for a while. Sounds like fabulous casting with enthusiastic backing. Congratulations! I’m looking forward to watching.

  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz


    God, I hope it all continues as successfully as it has begun. I’m very happy for you, Tess!

  3. JT Ellison

    SO, SO, SOOOO excited for you, Tess! I can’t wait to see it on TNT, the cast is really perfect for this. Keeping fingers crossed here… And thanks for the post. I get asked at every event about TV and film, and I think I’ll just start pointing them here, b/c it’s one aspect that no one really understands.

  4. Brett Battes

    AWESOME!!!! Great news, indeed! And welcome to L.A. If you’re looking for a good coffee shop to do some writing in, email me. 🙂 (I’m sitting at one of the tables right now!)

  5. Louise Ure

    HUZZAH! What a great cast.

    Based on my thirty years in advertising, if I ever sold one of my books to the Hollywood folks, I’d stay as far away from it as possible, but I hope your time in LA is magical.

  6. Ray Rhamey

    What a gas, Tess. I used to work as an animation screenwriter in "Hollywood," and there’s no place like it–nor like the excitement of seeing your work go into production.

  7. BCB

    Oh wow. How very cool. I love those characters too. I hope it turns into a perfect manifestation of all those years of hoping and dreaming and that cynicism is, for once, defeated.

  8. Rob Gregory Browne

    Coming in late here, Tess, as usual, but wanted to throw in my congratulations as well. I come from the film industry, so I know how difficult it is to get something from book to screen. I think it’s great that you’ve gone to pilot, and I have a feeling we’ll be watching Rizzoli and Isles weekly in the near future.


  9. Allison Brennan

    OMG WHAT A FABULOUS CAST!!! I am so excited. I think I’m almost as excited as you are! I called my mom (who gave me my first Tess Gerritsen book and said that I would love it–my mom is never wrong) and SHE is excited.

  10. L.C. McCabe


    Have a fabulous time in L.A. May the weather be sunny, the food fantastic, the flights uneventful, and the experiences on the set all be positive!

    I look forward to watching the pilot episode on television.


  11. Nicole


    (And me too – I’ve wanted this book series as a movie and tv show since I was getting some serious chills from Warren Hoyt in THE SURGEON 😉

    This is AWESOME news and I really, really, really hope TNT gets the views and keeps the show for years — can’t WAIT for it to air!!!

    Congrats Tess, and I think it’s time you popped the cork and poured yourself a glass of champagne – YAY!

  12. MCS

    Have just started reading your books (The Bone Garden, Body Double, The Apprentice). Had no idea there was "an order". Gobbled them up!! I don’t have TV service, by choice, but I may have to change that if Rizzoli, the TV pilot, does well. Many thanks! ~ from a Rockland, ME neighbor.

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