Pegg, Frost, Aaronovitch and Stolen Picture Miles Ketley tell Deadline how the deal came about, outlined their long-term plans for the adaptation and how it fits into their strategy for the Sony-backed scripted company.
The Rivers of London series follows Peter Grant, no relation to the infamous Led Zeppelin manager, an ordinary police constable turned magician’s apprentice as he solves crimes across the British capital with a blend of urban fantasy, mystery thriller and fantasy caper. The franchise has sold over 2.5M copies worldwide
The first book, which is known as Midnight Riot in the U.S., sees Grant as he attempts to solve a puzzling murder with information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. He then works with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. After, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Grant is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Frost told Deadline that he first read the book on holiday years ago. “Suddenly we were in a position where I said ‘there’s this book that I loved’ and it became available, more or less. I was chuffed to bits that I could get the rights to make it into a TV show,” he said. “Everyone wants to potentially find the next Game of Thrones and the chance to turn Rivers of London into an eight-hour movie and hopefully find someone who will financially back that is a real draw.”
Pegg, who has made a number of films with Frost including Shaun of the Dead, said that TV has entered an era where sprawling book series such as Rivers of London can now be adapted faithfully. This era we’re in now, TV has suddenly evolved into something far more cinematic, where you can tell stories and elaborate. A lot of books that are made into film are criticized for not being as good as the book, because they are contracted into something more simplistic. But what TV offers us now, which is a cinematic playing field, you can tell these stories with scope and get into creative detail.”
Aaronovitch (right) said that the book had previously gone through a number of development processes but was glad to work with Stolen Picture. “I’ve worked in television before so I was wary of sticking my head back into that lion’s den. It was a difficult thing to sell so that it wouldn’t get horribly butchered, and television up to now has had a lot of difficulties. [But] how could I say no [to Pegg and Frost]? I feel confident on several levels. I’m working with creators and I know these people don’t like bollocks. There will be creative conflicts and where external forces force us to make compromises but I know that the starting point is that we won’t make those compromises unless we have to. [Simon and Nick] are tremendous nerds and I don’t have to explain things to do them about magic, they just get it. we have a common language, which we don’t have in a lot of TV companies.
The author, who will serve as an exec producer alongside the trio, said that he was looking forward to exploring the character of Grant, but even more excited to develop other characters in this world. “Nobody knows this world better than me, I can make stuff up that’s canon,” he added.
Pegg added that it was important to work closely with Aaronovitch to develop the story. “Often as a writer, you are the absolute bottom of the food chain and treated like scum. As a writer, I understand what it’s like for someone to use you as a springboard rather than use your vision and it’s good to have writers involved as producers because they get it and we want to make a faithful adaptation that is a true reflection of the book.”
London is one of the main characters in the story and this will be reflected in the TV series. Pegg said, “As naturalized Londoners for 25 years, it feels that it can be very personal. A lot of what we’ve done, such as Shaun of the Dead, was about a London that tourists don’t visit, we didn’t want to put zombies on Westminster bridge, we wanted to make it in Crouch End. London is so historically rich… it has such a vast history, it is a strange fantasy land.”
The first book will become the first season but Aaronovitch said that in future seasons they may potentially put more than one book together. It will likely be eight or ten episodes in its first season.
The team is currently at the “assembly” stage of the process and has not yet put together a wider writing team or gone out to pitch to broadcasters or SVOD platforms. Ketley said that it will be a global series. “It’s a big, fun show and now television has caught up and can provide a big enough canvas to do justice to this vision. The beauty of Sony backing this is that they have got the global reach and we can work with them to get the creative and commercial vision right. We need to get it right, not quickly.”
The development comes 19 months after the trio set up Stolen Picture. Frost said they have spent the first year and a half nurturing projects and reading and now it’s ready to go, “It’s made me feel like a grown-up who runs a production company.”
“We’ve spent two years getting our ducks in a row but we’ve been very diligent in preparing a slate of things that we love and believe in and we’re excited to move to the next bit of actually making things. It’s a long game. The point of this company is to produce things that fit with Nick and I’s sensibility and nothing gets out that doesn’t get strained through our gauze,” said Pegg.
Stolen Picture is set to start principal photography on two other series this year, including Truth Seekers, a show that they are writing that revolved around three paranormal investigators. The project has secured an as-yet-unannounced platform and they have another unannounced project ready to go.
The company has is also working with a number of new writers to bring other voices to screen. It established a Rights Incubator initiative to work with new writers and is already developing a number of projects including detective comedy thriller We Never Sleep and genre hybrid Chemistry. Through the scheme, which is being run by creative directors James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, Jane Langford and Emma Bell, it is already working with five writers: Olly Cambridge, Gemma Copping, Phoebe Éclair-Powell, Elliot Steel and Faryal Velmi.
Pegg said the scheme was a “really productive exercise” and received lots of “genuinely strong pitches”. “[Jessica Stevenson and I] wrote Spaced when we were in our twenties because we were watching shows like Coupling and Friends and they weren’t talking to us because they were written by elderly men. We want to find people that can do that for us.”
Frost added, “We don’t want to have a massive slate. There’s a dearth of writers and finding new writers is difficult. We can’t write everything ourselves so we want to find good people with good ideas so they feel ownership.”