Alloy Entertainment has a solid reputation for turning teen books, including series like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries, into buzz-generating television shows. But the company’s latest book-and-TV project – The 100 (pronounced “The Hundred") – bucks the traditional book-first development timeline. In this case, a completed pilot for The 100, adapted from the debut sci-fi novel by Kass Morgan, was ready to air before the book had even been published. As Little, Brown readies the hardcover for release on September 3 and the CW network plans a mid-season launch of the TV series in early 2014, we take a look at The 100’s evolution.
“It started with the title,” said Les Morgenstein, president of Alloy Entertainment, and an executive producer of The 100. “It came out of an intense [in-house] brainstorming session at least five years ago. We had this title that we loved,” he said, “and we had been trying to come up with various concepts to have a book called ‘The Hundred.’ ” What the creative team eventually settled on was the tale of 100 juvenile delinquents living on a space station who are sent on a mission to re-colonize a long-abandoned, post-nuclear-holocaust Earth. Morgenstein notes that internal development of the story began roughly two years ago, and Kass Morgan, who had previously worked with one of the Alloy editors, was brought on to draft a manuscript sometime in early 2012. By August of that year, Elizabeth Bewley, senior editor for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, had acquired The 100 in a two-book deal.
“I did not know about the TV property at the time,” Bewley says about her first look at Morgan’s work from Alloy. “I loved the concept of the novel. The title was striking and the sample pages they submitted were wonderful. The unique vision of a futuristic Earth captured my imagination.” Bewley moved forward working with Morgan and the creative team at Alloy in shaping the book. “As we were concentrating on the manuscript,” she recalled, “Les came to us with the show.”
Once the book found its publisher, the TV team in Alloy’s Los Angeles offices pitched the idea to its partner studio at Warner Bros. TV, and to television writers, as a potential pilot. “[Screenwriter] Jason Rothenberg came back with a take that we loved,” said Morgenstein. Rothenberg wrote the pilot script and is now also an executive producer for the show, which landed at the CW, home to other Alloy programs.
As a result of the timing of each deal, Morgan and Rothenberg were writing the novel and the script simultaneously. “We felt it was important that the concept, the world, and the main characters are the same in both the book and the show,” said Morgenstein. “If there were creative decisions that needed to be made along the way, Morgan and Rothenberg could do that together,” he added. Going forward the two properties will inevitably diverge in some ways. “The TV show will use what’s available in the books as much as possible,” Morgenstein noted. “But they need a lot more material than what is in the two novels to create 13 episodes.”
On the book front, Bewley said, “In the beginning the novel informed the TV writers about the world, the characters, and the story. But they are full steam ahead in the writers’ room for the show. I’ll continue to work with Kass on our stories, and details will be threaded into the show, but there will be differences; we’ll see how much it parallels.”
Bewley noted that she and Morgan are “deep into the first draft” of the second novel, which is due out in fall 2014, and that she hopes to sign up additional books soon. Morgenstein is eager to bolster the publishing side as well. “We hope to publish many books over the years,” he said. The title stirred up global interest for representatives at London-based agency Rights People during this spring’s Bologna Book Fair, and to date the book has been sold in 11 languages/territories, including Dutch, French, Spanish, and Thai.
Bewley and Morgenstein are confident that The 100 packs plenty of appeal for both readers and viewers. “The idea of 100 teenagers alone on earth creates a really cool dynamic,” Bewley said. “They have freedom with no adults, but they must rely on one another to survive. And the setting is simultaneously beautiful and enchanting and creepy and dangerous.” From Morgenstein’s view, “There is a great aspirational quality to the story of kids getting a second chance. These kids had gotten into trouble and were written off because of that. They get to rebuild society on Earth from scratch – that’s a great fantasy. And this is a lush and rich world, not a dark post-apocalyptic place.”
Building an Audience
The TV pilot was initially being considered for the fall 2013 season, but did not get picked up. “In hindsight, it’s a great thing,” Morgenstein said. “It can be a book in its own right and there will be no market confusion with people wondering if it’s a tie-in. There will be time to build the book prior to the show going on air.” Bewley agreed that the timing is fortuitous. “Having the TV show come so quickly on the heels of the book is icing on the cake,” she said. “Readers who enjoy the book in the fall don’t have long to wait.”
Alloy, the CW, and Little, Brown are working together to build awareness for both properties. “What was so exciting about this project is that we knew there was lots of potential for it to become a show before it actually happened,” said Nellie Kurtzman, v-p and director of marketing at Little, Brown. “We were developing our marketing plans with that in mind, thinking, ‘Here’s what will happen if it’s a show.’ ”
The major promotional push began at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this month. Actors and producers from the television series took part in a well-attended panel discussion and signing after a premiere showing of the pilot at which Little, Brown distributed ARCs of The 100. The publisher gave away ARCs at its own booth as well. “We had a dual audience,” said Kurtzman. “We were handselling it to people who came by, and also giving it to people who recognized the book from attending the panel.”
Additional ARCs will be available in the coming weeks on Little, Brown’s YA blog, as well as social media sites like Facebook and GoodReads. In a partnership with Warner Bros. and the CW, Kurtzman said that the studio “is allowing us to use a promotional clip from the show as our book trailer.” The footage will help promote the book via e-tailers, YouTube, and other advertising outlets. A national print ad campaign and a presence on Alloy Entertainment’s sites and their social media accounts are also on the marketing docket. ARCs will be given away at various CW publicity events and Little, Brown will be selling the books at New York Comic-Con in October.
“We’ve been meeting with Alloy for months, coordinating our efforts,” Kurtzman said. “We want a unified look and unified selling points everywhere. It’s the ideal world in terms of tie-ins, because we’ve been able to build a high-media, high-profile campaign from the ground up, as one.”
The 100’s journey so far has been “interesting and exciting,” said Morgenstein. “We are incredibly enthusiastic about the potential of the books and the show. We’re eager to see if the fan base will pull it all together, and we think they will.”