"Giving your book to Hollywood is like turning your daughter over to a pimp," Tom Clancy was quoted as saying more than once during the battles he had with Paramount Pictures over the film adaptations of his best-selling political yarns "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger."
But Clancy's Cold War with Hollywood seems to be ending.
His first TV project, the four-hour miniseries "Tom Clancy's 'Op Center,' " airs Sunday and Feb. 27 on NBC. He and author Steve Pieczenik, a former international relations specialist for the U.S. government, created the concept revolving around a techno-savvy team of government and military experts who use their whiz-bang disciplines to manage international crises.
Meanwhile, screenwriter Christine Roum is polishing a Savoy Pictures script based on Clancy's 1993 novel "Without Remorse," which Clancy hopes will build an entirely new film franchise around the book's central character, John Kelly, a highly decorated former Navy SEAL.
And last December, Viacom executives Frank Biondi and Jonathan Dolgen and Paramount movie chief Sherry Lansing quietly flew to New York to make peace with Clancy and his agents.
* They shook hands with the author over an agreement to make his 1988 novel "Cardinal of the Kremlin" the next Jack Ryan movie thriller and laid the groundwork for two more Ryan films: adaptations of his current book, "Debt of Honor," and the next Ryan tome, which he plans to begin writing this fall.
So, what gives for the former insurance salesman who has referred to industry executives as "Hollywood pukes"?
By most accounts, it seems to be Hollywood that's giving in to Clancy, making peace with him--in the case of Paramount--and yielding more creative control to one of the world's top-selling authors. Clancy, for his part, is using his newfound power to revise the Hollywood system.
"One of the things I commented on, in my meeting with (the Paramount executives), is that the system almost seems designed to fail," Clancy observed in a recent interview. "We all know that time is money. Well, by God, time really is money in Hollywood, and yet the Hollywood process wastes a colossal amount of time unnecessarily."
In particular, Clancy is baffled by the lengthy period most screenwriters require to turn out a 120-page movie script, compounded by endless rewrites once the first draft is completed.
"As a person who writes novels of up to 1,200 pages of manuscript in five months, I don't understand why it takes up to six months to write 120 pages of text, which in fact is often based on source material that is already written, so you don't have to make anything up," Clancy said.
So Clancy has been adapting a paradigm he uses from the publishing world, with the help of a computer on-line service. When Clancy writes his books, he sends his Putnam editor, Neil Nyren, each chapter upon completion, rather than the entire manuscript at the end.
"It's a hell of a lot easier to fix Chapter Five when you're writing Chapter Five, than it is to fix the ripple from Chapter Five all the way through Chapter 40," he explained.
When writing "Op Center," executive producer Steve Sohmer, working in Los Angeles, would send what he had written at the end of each day to Clancy's home in Maryland--as E-mail, via America Online--and to Pieczenik in Washington. A fourth executive producer, Brandon Tartikoff, chairman of New World Entertainment, received passages in New Orleans by FAX.
The following morning, Sohmer would have notes, comments and suggestions from his fellow producers inserted in bold type.
"It's a hell of a productivity tool," said Clancy, who worked with Roum to help her finish the first draft of "Without Remorse" in five weeks, using the same method.
One reason Clancy has been having an easier time with the entertainment industry lately has to do with the newfound respect for popular authors who can deliver a loyal audience to a new medium, as Michael Crichton did this season with his hit NBC medical drama "ER." Clancy, with almost 50 million books in print in the United States alone, seems to be taking that line of thinking to a new extreme.
"Op Center" involves a major, multilevel marketing approach. The premiere of the $12-million miniseries was preceded last month by the national release of an original paperback novel, with Clancy's name in big, bold letters on top. The title shipped an enormous 4 million copies and currently heads the New York Times paperback bestseller list for fiction.
* Buyer beware, however. Clancy and Pieczenik created the concept and story for the "Op Center" book and miniseries--which tell different stories--as well as for a couple of book sequels. But Clancy and Pieczenik handed off the writing chores for the "Op-Center" books to an uncredited author, whose identity they won't reveal.
"Isn't it--nuns write them?" offered Tartikoff, who sat with Clancy for this interview in his New World office.