November 29, 2017

The "It's About TV" Interview: Adam-Michael James, author of I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin

It's been over a year since we last talked with our old friend Adam-Michael James, author of The Bewitched Continuum, one of my favorite books of 2015 (and I don’t mean just the books I reviewed, either), so when I got the news that Adam-Michael had a new Bewitched project in the works, it presented a perfect opportunity to catch up.

Adam-Michael's new novel, I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin - which hit Amazon this week! - brings a sense of closure to the Bewitched universe. Like most series of its time, Bewitched made no attempt to bring the series to any kind of conclusion when it ended its eight-season run in 1972. "Final episodes" of popular television shows were a rarity back then (the most famous one to that time was the end of The Fugitive, but there had been a few others). It wasn't as if the characters were left in any kind of limbo; neither, however, was there any opportunity for them to say a proper goodbye to a loyal viewing audience that had grown to know and love Samantha and Darrin Stephens and the various characters that orbited around their world.

With I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin, Adam-Michael sets out to provide a fitting end to one of the most popular sitcoms of the '60s and early '70s. And I can't think of anyone better qualified to do it - so why don't I shut up and let him tell you about it himself?

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It's About TV: It has been a while since we last talked about Bewitched - so what have you been up to since then? 

Adam-Michael James: Mostly promoting The Bewitched Continuum. [laughs] No, there have been other things, too – I’ve done some acting in theatre and some local video projects. Ended a 15-year relationship, moved back to L.A. but changed my mind and returned to Canada three months later...never a dull moment!

Bewitched, as we've said, came from a time when most TV series did not have "final episodes" that wrapped everything up, so tell me how the idea for the new book came about. What was it about the series that begged to you for such an episode - to clear up "final business," so to speak? 

It was already something I’d thought of for The Bewitched Continuum, and that’s where the initial synopsis of this two-part “episode” is. I don’t know what viewers felt about it in 1972, but when you watch the show in order now, it just feels incomplete by the time you get to Episode #254, especially since it’s not only a regular episode, but one of the more blatant remakes with dialogue copied word for word. And, as you say, it’s not like the series finale concept was commonplace back then, so even if the cast and crew of Bewitched knew they were going off the air (and I don’t think they did), they wouldn’t necessarily have wrapped things up. I was already analyzing eight seasons for The Bewitched Continuum, so I thought, “Why don’t I come up with a series finale myself?”

Where did the idea for the story come from? 

Well, as you know, Bewitched is not just about a cute little witch whose family causes problems for her mortal husband every week. It’s about prejudice – and overcoming it. The show itself constantly layered messages of equality and acceptance into its scripts, sometimes subtly, sometimes directly. And because this was in the middle of the civil rights movement, it was quite a bold thing to do. So it was only natural to think a final episode of Bewitched would double down on those messages, and do what any series finale would do: bring the show full circle, answer long-standing questions, and raise the stakes higher than they’d been in anything that came before it. Of course, in The Bewitched Continuum that was just two paragraphs; I had so much fun fleshing them out and finding ways to tie in key moments and have characters interact who had never shared a scene. I even ended up channeling backstories for Samantha and Darrin!

As an author myself, I'm always interested in how other writers approach the writing process - how long did it take you to flesh out the plot, and how long did it take to write?

I had the idea for Darrin’s backstory around this time last year – and then as things came to me I would make copious notes. Sometimes something would occur to me as I was trying to get to sleep and I’d have to get up and write something down or at least reach for the phone and record it. But the actual writing only took about four months – and that was including the three weeks I had to take off to go down to Florida and get my mother out of the path of Hurricane Irma. Fortunately her home survived and everything was fine, but it certainly shut down my creative engine for a while!

Tell us a little about the premise. What adventures do we find the Stephens engaged in this time?

Again, I wanted to bring things full circle. So how it starts off is, Darrin finally gets his promotion and becomes a partner at McMann, Tate, and Stephens, which is something that came up more than once over the course of the show. Samantha throws him a hip party filled with funk music – I referenced several songs, many of which I’d discovered for the first time and listened to on auto-repeat as I was writing. And long-missing mortals are in attendance. Most had only ever appeared in one episode, but I created a comprehensive list of endnotes so readers could tell what episode what character came from, or from what part of “The Bewitched Continuum” I built a story point around. Not to mention, I wanted to make it clear what was my idea and what was a creation of the show.

Anyway, all is going well until some witchcraft happens in front of this room full of mortals, and Samantha is unable to explain it away the way she was able to when it was one or two people witnessing magic. So she tells her guests she’s a witch – and before they can react, the Witches’ Council steps in, and Samantha has to fight for her way of life via a hearing that involves many witches and mortals. My other rule was, no new characters. Everyone who shows up was on screen at one point or another. It’s quite the reunion!

You suggest that there's a message in Bewitched that's applicable to today's world, aside from the sheer fantasy and sitcom humor of the show. Can you elaborate on that? 

With pleasure. As I mentioned, Bewitched was all about equality and acceptance. Elizabeth Montgomery really believed in that. At one point Samantha said “all men are brothers, even if they’re girls.” Another time she called for the “acceptance of all differences, and a recognition of our common humanity.” That was very necessary during the ‘60s and ‘70s – regrettably, here in 2017 there’s a movement to drag society backwards into intolerance, prejudice, and the idea that one group of people is superior to another. If Bewitched were on the air today first-run, I’m willing to bet Samantha would be taking the same kind of stand she did 45 years ago, if not a stronger one. I feel I have a responsibility as an artist to take the messages of Bewitched and amplify them, because we really, really need to hear them right now. It’s all done subtly, but I think it’s what Elizabeth would have done and I hope she would be proud of it.

Do you think there are other shows out there that, like Bewitched, have this serious side, and a
kind of moral foundation that supports the show even if it remains mostly unsaid?

If you mean classic TV shows, it’s hard for me to say. I only know Bewitched and a handful of others this intimately. I’m sure issues of social justice were tackled in dramas of that day, but I’m hard pressed to think of another comedy that did. I think shows of all genres of television are much more apt to advocate for equality now. Because for as much as there are those lately who want to undo the progress of the past several decades, that progress is still there. It’s nice to think that Bewitched was at least in the forefront of taking a stand in the context of its magic and comedy.

In creating the backstories and writing the main story, did you find the characters saying or doing anything that surprised you, or situations occurring that you hadn't really expected?

Oh, all the time. Initially I’d just planned to follow the series finale synopsis I had laid out in The Bewitched Continuum. But as I went along it seemed these folks had more they wanted to say. Of course, the base for all of it was the show itself. For example, it was said in the pilot that Darrin was from Missouri, so I built on that; I figured he must have already been into advertising as a kid. With Samantha, of course, I had freer rein because she’s a witch, plus it had finally been confirmed in Season 7 that she was 300 years old. But a lot of stuff just came organically. Bits of humor revealing themselves in unorthodox places, dramatic parallels happening in others. Do you remember that
episode where Samantha was writing a play about the Civil War and she zapped up
characters that ended up telling her what to write?

Yes! [laughs]

Doing this book was not unlike that! [laughs]

One of the things I like about the book is how you mix comedy with drama, how you've created scenarios that create some very real danger for the Stephens family - after all, this is a last episode, anything can happen - and yet you maintain the natural humor of the characters that viewers will recognize. Difficult?

The show itself was already very adept at sprinkling drama into things – there were many moments, especially in the early seasons, that made you forget you were watching a sitcom. So I guess once I caught onto that wavelength, it wasn’t too difficult. I did worry a bit when I got to the showdown with the Witches’ Council that things might get overly serious, but sometimes you can find humor in the craziest situations, and that often helps you get through. A maxim I seem to have adhered by most of my own life!

So here's a scenario for you: the book has been optioned as a movie - tell me about your ideal cast, if there is one. 

Man, I hate to turn down that check. [laughs] It just couldn’t be done. The way I crafted this, it “airs” a week after the final episode that audiences actually saw. That means the cast as it existed in 1972 are the stars here. Relegating it to fictional status even more is the brief appearance of a character whose portrayer passed away during the run of the show, which would have already been impossible back then because the actor could simply not have been recast. So I, Samantha... (or as I’ve started to call it, “iSam” [laughs]) can only exist in our minds, unfortunately!

Any more stories in the works, or does this bring the Bewitched story to a conclusion?

Certainly the intention with this book is to bring the series as we knew it to a close. But let’s just say, if there was enough interest in it, following Samantha, Darrin, and the kids into the ‘80s, ‘90s, and even the 2000s wouldn’t require much arm-twisting.

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Ah, that was fun! My thanks as always to Adam-Michael for graciously answering my questions. You can find out more about Adam-Michael and his other work at his website, www.  I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin, is available from Amazon, and I'll be back on Friday with a review. See you then, right? Right!  TV 

1 comment:

  1. A fun interview and certainly an intriguing idea for a book!


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!