Long before the world went mad for digital, magazines such as Sports Illustrated, MAD, People and Playboy were adapted into television programs. It was a way to take their product to an audience that might not ever stop by a newsstand.
In keeping with that tradition, Amazon has turned to one of the most award-winning magazines for its newest series. “The New Yorker Presents” will bring to the screen documentaries, short narrative films, comedy, poetry, animation and cartoons from the hands of noted filmmakers and artists.
This series is the work of filmmaker Alex Gibney and his production company Jigsaw Productions, along with Kahane Cooperman, a five-time Emmy and two-time Peabody Award-winning producer.
Gibney says the series will celebrate the eclecticism of the magazine.
“So while the focus is nonfiction, nevertheless, we embrace the humor, whether it be in the cartoons or in some of the shorter humor pieces,” he says. “We are transforming some of the fiction pieces into into dramatic pieces in video and also doing documentaries that are inspired by or come directly out of some of the nonfiction pieces in The New Yorker.”
The fiction pieces that have been in the magazine have been written by the likes of Tom Wolfe, J.D. Salinger and Haruki Murakami. The directors being brought on to interpret the works include Gibney, Steve James and Jonathan Demme.
While the production team has access to material from the magazine dating back to 1925, the focus has been on more contemporary pieces. In the initial run, the oldest story told was in the magazine 15 years ago. All but one of the stories in the first season are based on material from the magazine.
An episode being released March 1 will feature “Roy Spivey,” based on a short story written by Miranda July. The tale is about a woman who sits next to a handsome movie star on an airplane. He gives her his number, except for the last digit, and one day she decides to give the number a call.
This is the first time the New Yorker has been the inspiration for a TV series. David Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize winner who has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998, sees launching the program as just part of the natural evolution of print journalism.
“When I started as an editor of the magazine 17 years ago, the job was to put out a print magazine once a week, and that was a pretty big job. And if somebody thought it was the greatest magazine in the world, then fantastic, but that’s not easy to do,” Remnick says. “Since that time, we’ve adapted ourselves to, and evolved to be terrific, I hope, as a website for tablets.”
You don’t want a television show about behind the scenes of The New Yorker. That will last about 20 minutes because it’s just a bunch of people humped over desks, writing and working. That won’t wash.
When the team was putting together the idea for the program, the main concern was to create a visual product with the same quality as what appears in print. A lot of that work was done by Gibney and Cooperman.
Remnick stresses this agreement with Amazon was not reached merely as a way for The New Yorker to advertise itself.
“It’s a creative venture, a really creative venture, creative experiment, too, in which filmmaking is foremost. And the people at The New Yorker, at the magazine itself, at the website, participate where we can be helpful, and that extends even to fact checking, which is something that we pride ourselves on,” Remnick says. “And part of the reason I feel like I’m working with such kindred souls is that they picked up on this kind of ethos with real relish.”
The New Yorker Presents
- 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, Amazon Prime