The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How ‘Bosch’ creator Michael Connelly turned his bestsellers into a TV series

Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch. Credit: Amazon Studios

Bosch,” the Amazon-original series starring Titus Welliver as veteran L.A. homicide detective Harry Bosch, has been renewed for a second season after strong critical and online success. Author Michael Connelly, 58, a former L.A. Times reporter, has sold nearly 50 million copies of his 27 books, 19 of which follow the detective. The series started in 1992, and this is the first TV adaptation. Post reporter Neely Tucker tracked down Connelly this morning while he was in London, vacationing with his wife and daughter, as the trio walked near London Bridge. This is an edited version of the conversation (we cut out, for example, the part in which a passerby recognized Connelly, stopped him and asked him to autograph a Bosch book, which Connelly politely did). The exchange regarding Ferguson was in a follow-up e-mail.

When was the series shot?
We shot the pilot in October of 2013 and Amazon put it up on their site in February 2014. People could vote if they wanted to see more. After about a month, they said, “Yeah, give us a 10 episode season.” So we began shooting in August and went to December.

Day to day, week to week, what’s been your involvement?
Pretty high. I was in the writing room every week in pre-production. I was involved in finding locations to shoot around L.A. I was involved in casting and I brought up the name of Titus Welliver – he wasn’t on the initial list of actors. I threw his name in the discussion and he wound up being Harry Bosch. That was pretty cool. In production, I was there, but I don’t have any experience in that regard. I was just enamored of the project, which I’d been involved in a long time. I was more of a cheerleader on the set.

What was it that you saw in Welliver that said, “that’s my Harry Bosch”?

I’d seen and liked him in a lot of things – “Deadwood,” “Argo,” “The Town.” But after the great success of “24,” Kiefer Sutherland did “Touch,” which didn’t do nearly as well. I had DVR’ed the pilot but never watched it. One night I had insomnia, so I finally looked at it. Titus was the guest star and played a guy who had post-traumatic stress disorder. He had behind the eyes what I wanted Bosch to have…when he came in (for the tryout), he played a scene from the pilot and talked about the character. We didn’t say, “You got the job!” right then, but we waited for him to go out of the room. There were about seven or eight of us in there. We all looked at each other and said, “That’s Harry Bosch.”

How much is straight from the books in season one?

Harry Bosch is 100 percent, and L.A. is 100 percent. But we blended three books together that, as books, stood apart. We had to create evidentiary connections. We had to play with Bosch having been in Vietnam, because Titus Welliver is too young to have been there, so we changed his military experience. The books are also Harry Bosch’s point of view. If we shot it that way, we’d kill our star. He’d be working 14 hours a day. So in “Echo Park,” there’s a serial killer who escapes on a field trip showing where he killed people. In the series, we created this whole relationship for the killer to have with his mother, which is not in the books, so we could have time where Bosch is not on screen. That’s a significant change. And we chose to make Harry’s daughter 14 at the start of the show, so that she can converse with him. In the books, she starts off at five. But the books are essentially about Harry Bosch and L.A. and to me, those things came out so solid.

In the books, it’s explained that he has this house with a great view in the hills because he’d sold his rights to one particular case he’d been involved in to a television show. In the series, it’s been changed to a movie, with the title of your first Bosch book, “The Black Echo.” That was fun.

His house is much grander in the show than it is in books, so we had to come up with a new explanation for how a police detective would have that kind of house. In the books, it’s kind of a shack but with a million-dollar view.

You do a lot of research into real events that you then place in the books. How much of the series is based on things that actually happened?

The trial portion that’s in the first four episodes, that’s straight out of “The Concrete Blonde.” I wrote that book while I was still at the L.A. Times, and my day job at the time was covering the civil trial of seven cops who were being sued for killing four robbers in a shootout at a McDonald’s. They were cleared by the D.A. and the LAPD, but were being sued by the family. So, then, at night, I was writing “Blonde,” and was using some things word for word — questions from the attorneys, things like that. One of the cops was asked on the stand, “How many people have you killed?” And he answered, “I don’t know,” because he’d been in Vietnam. I remember thinking “great line.” So that went into the book, and in the series, Bosch says that exact line in his trial.

Hey man, I gotta tell you: The reporter in the series isn’t doing those of us still in tribe any favors. He’s a jerk!

You know how they say how people who used to smoke become the most vocal anti-smokers? Now I’m the hardest on reporters of anybody I know. (Laughs.) I don’t know the psychology of that…but the same reporter is back in Season Two, and he and Harry have straightened it out.

Millions of readers love Bosch…but the series opens with him, a white cop, on trial for shooting a minority suspect, who may or may not be guilty. In light of current events, like Ferguson, did it make you at all nervous to open the series with that, before new viewers got a chance to know Bosch?

We had finishing filming all of the courtroom scenes when the events began unfurling in Ferguson. It was a bit of a strange coincidence since what we were doing was drawn from a book published in ’94 in the shadow of the Rodney King case. We managed to make one reference to Ferguson in Episode 8, but that was it. I think it all goes to underline Harry’s story and how difficult it is to be a good and relentless cop while always being second guessed from inside and out.

Do you have a plan for how many seasons you’d like to do, an overall arc?

We said at the beginning we’d like to get 60 hours, which would be five or six years. That would be an amazing thing. I think we can delineate the character in that time.

So is all of this eating in to book production time?

Yeah. It does. I’m paying the price now for my super involvement in the show. I have a book due in July and I’m way behind.

I remember you said in an earlier conversation that the hardest thing about writing was “the getting and keeping of momentum.” I’d never heard an author put it that way before, and I’ve always remembered it.

That’s the whole trick, yeah. So it’s a good thing that we just found out we’re getting a second season – it’s a “champagne problem,” to quote my agent, but it’s still a problem, since I’m already behind on this next book. So I’m at the stage of getting the momentum back.

Is this a Bosch or Mickey Haller book?

I’m calling it a Bosch book, but Mickey Haller is in it. In the last book, Bosch went out the door of LAPD. In this one, “The Crossing,” he’s convinced by Haller to investigate the case against his client. So he’s grudgingly sort of going over to the other side, at least in this one.