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Elmore Leonard Was 'Amazed' by 'Justified': 'Better Than What I
 Would Have Written'

At a TCA panel in January of 2012, the late author praised the FX hit he inspired: "I can’t believe it 
sometimes."

Elmore Leonard - P 2012
Getty Images
Elmore Leonard

In many ways FX's Justified is a television series created with uncommon respect for the source material. In fact, Elmore Leonard, who died on Tuesday, was such a guiding force for those who worked on the series that the very notion they could produce something Leonard would disapprove of drove them to create -- and sustain -- one of the very best dramas on television.

I immediately thought of series creator Graham Yost after hearing about Leonard's death. Yost had given the staff little blue rubber wrist bands that had WWED on them. "What Would Elmore Do?" It was, in times of doubt, their guiding principle. I've seen Yost at a few events long since he handed them out and joked that he forgot something -- only have him slide up his shirt sleeve to reveal the band.

PHOTOS: Elmore Leonard's Career in Pictures

It's not everyday, in a medium like television that is absolutely a writer's medium, where you find such abiding love for the person who wrote the source material. I think that's partly what has made Justified, which was based on a Leonard short story called "Fire In the Hole," such a fully-formed, fully-realized depiction of character. Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens is superb, and Leonard so loved what Yost and his writers churned out that he kept giving his unabashed stamp of approval. (And beyond that, the show spurred Leonard to write another book -- Raylan -- based on how much Justified had ignited the character; Olyphant's image, as Raylan, adorned the cover).

Obviously there have been and will continue to be plenty of appreciation pieces for the talent that Leonard possessed. A lot of films have been made from his work -- and not all of them up to his standards or even the expectations of his ardent book fans. But Justified was a true exception.

In January of 2012, FX was presenting a Justified panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, and joining Yost and the cast on stage was Leonard (who had graciously signed copies of his book and had them sitting in front of critics). What came out of that memorable panel was Leonard's very real and very touching appreciation for the series and those behind it. When he spoke of how great the show was and how astonished he was at what Yost and the writers did to expand the Raylan character's world view, he wasn't blowing smoke.

STORY: Elmore Leonard's 10 Best Hollywood Quotes

Here are a few telling snippets as we recall not only the man, but how deeply he felt about a project of his that is likely to be long and ongoing at FX:

Leonard on Justified: "I think it’s a terrific show. I love all of the writing, and I’m amazed sometimes that they’ve got the characters better than I put them on paper. They are doing a good job, really a good job ... Well, they’re pros, to begin
 with. They know what they’re doing. Good 
writing. I think, the writing, I can’t believe it 
sometimes. My god, it’s a lot better than what I
 would have written in the scene, you know."

Leonard on adaptations of his work (and groaning when Yost brought up the movie The Big Bounce): "Oh, god. And they made it twice. 
It wasn’t bad enough the first time ... Well, I don’t really remember all
 the bad ones. I know The Big Bounce was bad. I
 don’t think anybody in the picture knew what it 
was about. The second time it was made they shot it in Hawaii
 and they would cut to surfers when they’d run out
 of ideas. But when I wrote screenplays, and I haven’t 
written a screenplay since ’93, that’s when I 
said, I’m not writing any more of these. It’s just
 work, because you’re working with a studio
 executive who really doesn’t know much, if
 anything, about writing what works and what
 doesn’t. So why put yourself in that position 
when you have to do that?"

STORY: Elmore Leonard Remembered by 'Justified' Showrunner Graham Yost

Leonard on writing that will be taken from the page and put on the screen: "But
 from the very beginning I wanted to sell to the
 movies when I started. And so I made it very
 visual, as visual as I could, with always from a
 character’s point of view, always, and use all the 
characters and find out who they are. And I 
think that’s helped. And I’ve sold, I think, about 
20 to Hollywood. Because from the very beginning 
I’ve been in it to make money. And that’s the way to do it."

And whether he cared how the adaptation turned out: "Well, of course. I’m writing as 
well as I can. I’m not just turning something in.
 No. Why not write for money? I think any writer 
is a fool if he doesn’t write for money. There’s 
got to be some kind of an incentive, in addition
 to the product. It all goes together. And it’s 
fun to sit there alone and think of characters and 
get them into action, and then get paid for it. I
 can’t believe when writers tell me, 'Well, I don’t 
want to show my work to anybody.' Well, what are 
you doing it for? You want people to like it. 
And therefore, you want to get paid for it. Maybe 
I shouldn’t ever say that again."

Everybody laughed. Long and hard.

And finally, one quick tidbit of a quote that explains a lot about Leonard and a lot about Justified. Yost wrote a line in the pilot where Raylan's ex says to him: "You're the angriest man I've known." This prompted Leonard to turn to Yost and say this: "I didn’t understand that, because 
I thought he was very happy with what he was 
doing, shooting a number of people."

Elmore Leonard will be missed. And the next season of Justified will be anticipated, if for nothing more than a hint of the inspiration the master gave the writers.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine