Fox Show Bears Odd Resemblance to Book

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 5:18 PM

NEW YORK -- Pete Hamill thought he'd seen it all. And then the best-selling writer thought up a character who really had.

Cormac O'Connor appeared in "Forever," Hamill's best-selling 2002 novel. Cormac was killed centuries ago ... and brought back to life _ eternal life. Granted immortality, he lives in Manhattan, still bearing the scar of his fatal wound, learning to play the piano, romancing the city's women until he finds the one who can grant him peace.

Good yarn, right?

Five years later, Hamill's readers started writing him about an upcoming Fox network TV show, "New Amsterdam." Its lead character was killed centuries ago ... and brought back to life _ eternal life. Granted immortality, he lives in Manhattan ...

Sound familiar?

It did to Hamill. Although the show's executive producer, David Manson, insists that John Amsterdam was created independent of Cormac O'Connor, Hamill and his fans aren't quite convinced _ although the author's attitude leans more to resignation than litigation.

"To try and prove anything about this would take thousands and thousands of dollars, which I'd rather spend on my grandson," Hamill said. "You've gotta laugh."

Hamill's assessment of his success in a legal fight is largely accurate.

Entertainment attorney Steven Hayes, whose clients include Bruce Springsteen, said Hamill's odds of winning a lawsuit were roughly the same as those of two men granted immortality residing in the same borough.

And Hamill is quick to point out the plight of the late Art Buchwald, who waged a four-year legal fight with Paramount Pictures over a script that became the Eddie Murphy hit "Coming to America." In the end, Buchwald won _ and collected just $150,000.

O'Connor and John Amsterdam, the TV show's title character, might not have sprung from the same mind _ but there's no doubt they share some literary DNA:

_ O'Connor still bears a scar, "a ridge of dead flesh on his shoulder," from his fatal wound. Amsterdam is marked with "scars everywhere ... all over his torso and body," according to a script acquired by Hamill's agent.

_ O'Connor learned to play the piano, becoming a fan of legendary jazz player Art Tatum. Amsterdam plays too, and favors the work of legendary jazz player Thelonious Monk.

_ O'Connor has one way to return to a normal life: finding the right woman amidst Manhattan's multitudes. And Amsterdam ... "You will not grow old," he is told, "until you find your one." One woman, that is.

Coincidence? As Fox News says, we report, you decide.

Hamill already has: "It is astonishing. The scars. The fact that he plays piano."

Manson, asked about the similarities in a session with TV critics earlier this summer, said he'd never read the Hamill book and was unaware of its existence until production was wrapped.

"I guess what I think about it is this _ the subject of immortality has been compelling to, since the dawn of time, various cultures," the show's executive producer said. "I think that it's not _ it's not surprising that there will be overlaps in this world. That's all I can say."

A press release promoting the Sept. 6 premiere of "New Amsterdam" at a Manhattan theater called it one of the "most anticipated network shows of the new TV season."

Hamill, speaking for the first time about the show, has managed to keep his sense of humor. He's not too impressed by Amsterdam, for starters: "Here's some guy who took 300 years to pass the cop's test."

Hamill, 72, is one of New York's best-known writers, working as a columnist with three city newspapers in between 10 novels, two short story collections and assorted other projects. The son of Irish immigrants was born in Brooklyn, and still makes his home in the city.

He also still owns the TV and movie rights to "Forever," although he wonders if their value will take a hit from "New Amsterdam."

Hamill said the capper to his script reading came on page 58, where the main character hands over an envelope "for Eva."

"The words blur into one and almost spell _ FOREVER ... and our music kicks in," the script reads.

"I said, `Holy jeez, talk about Freudian typos,'" Hamill recalled. "Hey, maybe this will sell the novel: `You've seen the knockoff, now try the book.' Who knows?"

© 2007 The Associated Press