Wilton Barnhardt, associate professor of creative writing in NC State’s Master of Fine Arts program, garnered accolades with his sprawling novel of the new south, Lookaway, Lookaway, after it was published in August. The New York Review of Books called it “an uncompromising satire of the nostalgic ‘legacy’ of the South, the sentiment that causes states to fly the Confederate flag….also an emotional and layered reflection on a family.”
Now the book has captured the attention of television producers. HBO has optioned Lookaway, Lookaway for a comedy series. Executive producers for the project are Sue Nagle, former HBO entertainment president, and David Miner of “30 Rock” and “Parks & Recreation.” Barnhardt and his novel were featured in the Summer 2013 issue of NC State magazine, and we caught up with him to learn more his move from the printed page to the small screen.
What are the chances that you’ll end up with a hit series? We have to remember this is an option to make a pilot that may or may not be picked up. We all know the odds. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections had a pilot made and not picked up. The project could also die a competitive death if there is something else too similar on a network or another show that might be stealing the audience. But everyone at this stage is very positive. I think it looks good because of the people associated with it.
What kind of involvement will you have? I’m a co-executive producer. Getting an option for a book is not that difficult, but what requires a little more negotiation is making sure you have a part in the production….It’s quite likely that it will be filmed here [in North Carolina]. This is meant to be a series about New South as it really is. I don’t believe the New South has been adequately portrayed on television. It’s always the cartoon south—competitive catty women or an update of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It might be entertaining but it’s not how we live. …But I’m getting serious. And this is going to be funny. David Miner, one of executive producers, is there to make sure we don’t get too unfunny.
What happens next? I’m going to LA for about 10 days in March for a meeting. What they told me is it’s an excruciatingly long time before we can march into network and say, “Here’s what we think we can get with casting, here are the first episodes.’’ When you go into the network you have to have the perfect package. Then, if you get the thumbs up, it becomes excruciatingly fast. But if all goes well, we could be going into production in 2015.
Dream cast? It’s dangerous to fantasize. Right now I’m trying to calm students down who are already casting themselves.
What kind of compensation do you get? You make very little money until you make a lot.
— Sylvia Adcock ’81