Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman are no longer proceeding with development of Ghost Ship, a TV series about the 2016 fire that broke out in a former warehouse that had been converted into an artist collective, claiming the lives of 36 people.
The project was announced last Tuesday as part of a development slate the husband-and-wife duo of Chabon and Waldman are building under a multi-year overall deal at CBS TV Studios. It sparked immediate backlash and anger by relatives of the victims, leading to Chabon and Waldman’s decision to abandon the idea for the time being.
“We believe in the power of art, and specifically of this medium, to effect change, and had hoped to harness that power not just on behalf of the victims of this tragedy but also to help to call to account those who most bear responsibility for it,” the duo said in a statement provided to Deadline.” Over the past few days, however, we’ve heard from parents of the victims, from friends and survivors, and from conscientious members of the community, appealing to us to reconsider telling the story of the Ghost Ship—because it’s too soon, because the wounds are too deep and too recent and the pain of reliving the experience would be too great. These appeals have been heartbreaking to hear, and they have changed our minds. We are sorry for any distress or pain we caused.”
“We believe that there is a conversation to be had about the propriety of telling the story of the Ghost Ship, and about the identity and moral responsibility of those who tell it, but clearly it’s not a conversation that can be conducted without causing further pain to the living victims of this tragedy. Therefore, we will not be proceeding, and will do our part to leave the families and survivors to their grief and their loss, in the fervent hope that someday they find not just comfort but also a measure of justice.”
Said CBS TV Studios in a statement, “We support the producers’ decision.”
Ghost Ship, which was to tell the tragic story of the Oakland, CA art collective that caught fire, with 36 fatalities, had only taken the initial step of optioning a New York Times Magazine article and had not entered the development process, with no network on board. Chabon and Waldman’s slate is led by The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a limited series adaptation of Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel novel, which has been set up at Showtime with a big production commitment. It also includes A Really Good Day starring Anna Chlumsky for Showtime, based on Waldman’s book; and Behind You at Hulu.
While Ghost Ship was barely a footnote in the CBS TV Studios story, the news made headlines in the Bay Area, where Berkeley residents Chabon and Waldman live, with many condemning the idea of turning the tragedy into a TV show so soon after it had happened. The imitate outcry prompted Waldman to tweet a response the day after their slate story was published, promising “to thoroughly research every aspect of this tragedy, and take care to present the story with the greatest sensitivity to and compassion for the victims, their families, and our East Bay community.”
The controversy did not subside, and two days later, Waldman tweeted a lengthy joint statement, announcing her and Chabon’s decision not to proceed. It was a version of the statement the duo provided to Deadline.
So far, nobody has been convicted for the fire. Two man were tried earlier this fall. One was acquitted and the jury deadlocked on the second, resulting in a mistrial. A new date has been set for March 2020.