In NBC’s THE SLAP, Thursdays at 10 PM, an already strained family get-together in Queens, New York, passes the breaking point when Harry (Zachary Quinto), thinking his son is being threatened, strikes another little boy. The eight-episode miniseries, which also stars Thandie Newton, Brian Cox, Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Thomas Sadowski and Marin Ireland, is based on the Australian miniseries of the same title, which in turn is based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas.
Executive producers Jon Robin Baitz and Walter F. Parkes did the U.S. series adaptation. Baitz, who also created the series BROTHERS & SISTERS, is an award-winning playwright whose work includes THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE (for which he adapted the screenplay), OTHER DESERT CITIES and TEN UNKNOWNS. His original screenplay for the historical gay rights drama STONEWALL, directed by Roland Emmerich, is currently in post-production.
AX: How do you feel about working on something that’s not only an adaptation of another series, but an adaptation of an adaptation of a novel?
JON ROBIN BAITZ: It feels entirely mine, actually. As you go further and further in the show, it gets further and further from the Australian [version], so I no longer think of it really as adaptation. Even though I have enormous respect for, and it’s sort of guided by, the Australian book and show, both of which I think are exquisite, I had to let it go in order to make it my own. That’s the only way to do it, is to make it your own.
AX: You’ve said the eight episodes are closed-ended, but assuming that everybody’s not dead at the end of the eight episodes, presumably they could continue on.
BAITZ: If the audience is there, we absolutely could. They’re very interesting, complex people. They have deep internal lives, so yes, we could keep going.
AX: The slap itself has some ambiguity to it. No one should go around hitting children, but in the circumstances, it does look like Harry has reason to fear his son could be hit by the other boy’s carelessness and parents are protective. Did you emphasize that aspect or was that there in the source material?
BAITZ: I think the source material has it all. It’s a very spontaneous act that comes at the end of a particularly tense afternoon for Harry. There are little fuses everywhere for him that go off. What’s fascinating to me is, yes, a great and awful loss of control momentarily is then the catalyst for a series of equally almost unfathomable actions by people. So I think there’s a lot about how close our unconscious is to our conscious.
AX: Is what’s going on that, once one person gives in to their id, it creates a domino effect?
BAITZ: Yes, it’s precisely that. It’s exponential. Everybody’s id is very powerful.
AX: Did you change any of the pairings or genders among the characters?
BAITZ: No. There are some characters cut from the book and the Australian version, but the Australian show is an hour long, fifty-nine minutes. We have forty-three. So it’s been a compression here.
AX: Are the children characters unto themselves?
BAITZ: Yes. They are deeply individuated. For me, the show is about nothing so much as what we do to children. So these characters, these children’s lives, are incredibly important and I’ve tried to really follow the unknowable mystery of certain children and the effects of adult behavior on kids through it.
AX: Have you previously written for children – that is, actors and characters – who are this young?
AX: How do you feel about writing child characters?
BAITZ: I think it’s important not to over complicate it, but to give them actions that make sense to children, and I can find that in me.
AX: So it’s allowing you to re-approach something within yourself?
AX: What would you most like people to know about THE SLAP?
BAITZ: It’s an ambitious and serious program, but this is an experiment for network television that I’m proud to have been part of the adventure of.
This interview was conducted during NBC’s presentation day for the Television Critics Association at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.
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Article: THE SLAP producer Jon Robin Baitz talks Season 1- exclusive interview