'The Passage' TV Adaptation Still Charting How Close It Will Keep to Books

Showrunner Liz Heldens and author Justin Cronin say they're "slowing down the story."
Courtesy of Fox
'The Passage'

The Passage has not had a simple road to adaptation — and, per the Fox drama's producers and author Justin Cronin, its exact course is still a conversation.

Cronin's 2010 novel, the first in a three-part series of the same name, was originally eyed as a feature before ultimately getting pinned down as a TV project in 2016. There was a pilot, there were reshoots, and when the first trailer finally screened at the network's 2018 upfront, it became clear that the complicated, time-jumping piece of apocalyptic science fiction was not going to look the way many readers thought it might onscreen.

"We're just slowing down the story a little bit so that you understand the good intentions and bad decisions that led to the end of the world as we know it," showrunner Liz Heldens told TV critics Thursday morning, noting that she was most interested in the unconventional father-daughter relationship at the year-spanning story's start. "That relationship is what allowed me to wade into a genre show. We're gonna serve up a lot of that."

The plot of The Passage, both the novel and series, is not easily explained for anyone going in blind. Described on its book jacket as "an epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival," there's a pandemic, government experiments, vampires and decades-wide time jumps. "We kept trying to crack the story," producer Matt Reeves says of the first attempt to translate it to the screen. "It is not adaptable as a movie."

The central relationship that kept being referenced during the Television Critics Association panel is between characters played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar and newcomer Saniyya Sidney. Neither spoke with confidence about how long they might stay part of the show given one of the character's relatively brief showing in the novels and the other's unique role. "The plan right now is to have the first season of the show be present day," added Heldens. "I read the book and I see three seasons of television: Project Noah, The Colony and then the last section of the book."

If that doesn't make sense to you, you are not alone. There was a lot of book-speak throughout the panel, implying that there is both a built-in audience for the TV series and a potential hurdle for those not versed in the source material.

"My goal in writing these books was to write on the biggest possible canvas, a thousand years," said Cronin, implying he approved of necessary condensing of the story. "I didn't think of it as something that would be adaptable. Some novels are too big and some novels are too small. I love The Handmaid's Tale, but there was too little plot in that book [for a TV show]. They had to grow it for the show."

The author, however, didn't seem overly eager to make any decisions in how his story will be tailored for the new medium.

"I'm content to let the experts do their job," said Cronin, credited on The Passage as a co-producer. "I watch television, but I don't know how to make television."