Color me among the crazed fans out there who are waiting with baited breath for Dirk Maggs’ production of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The only thing I could imagine enjoying more than hearing the gifted Gaiman read his own work (if you haven’t had a chance to hear Gaiman read his stories, I highly recommend you check out Fragile Things and The Graveyard Book to hear what you’re missing) would be to enjoy this lavish audio drama production by Maggs featuring an all star cast.
Not to be melodramatic, but Neverwhere is exactly the kind of radio drama that needs to exist for the medium to be relevant in the 21st century. Why? Because Neil Gaiman fans will follow Neil Gaiman’s work wherever it goes. Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of folks are going to experience radio drama for the first time, and what are they going to do? They are going to look for more material. They are going to stumble across series like We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles, and (hopefully) The Cleansed. People come out of the woodwork and say – how can I hear more of this?!
And this is all phenomenal. My argument for a long time has been that radio drama needs to unite with the thousands of talented writers out there with story ideas that otherwise don’t get off the cutting room floor. In Neverwhere‘s case, it seems that Gaiman was never quite content with the TV version, so radio drama offered an opportunity to really do the story right. For other stories, it may be that the show never made it past a pilot or never really gained traction with an audience as a television show and so was cut early. It may be a series of brilliant short stories, such the compilation Shadow Show edited by Mort Castle, which has a number of gems that could be audio adaptations. Or, it may be totally original ideas (like the series I listed above) which are being created for the first time as audio originals, as a way to get a story out there for a lot less money than a movie and to a lot wider audience than an ebook.
For less than 10% of the budget of a typical television episode, you can produce 4-5 hours of luxurious audio drama (a typical hour of BBC programming is ~$25,000, approximately 10x what the average American independent is working with). If you can get the audience to understand that audio drama IS entertainment, that listening to something is just as compelling – perhaps more compelling – than watching something, then you have potentially enormous returns for the investment. When you’re talking about listenership in the millions, it does not take a lot of paid downloads to repay twenty-fold the investments in a top-notch audio drama. When you do the math, it’s clear that excellent audio dramas have the potential to be excellent money-makers too.
So, this my hope for Neverwhere – that the delicious, absurd alternate reality of “London Underground” is realized so bloody brilliantly, memorably, and imaginatively in audio that everyone who hears it is hungry for more. They then tell their friends, they start banging down BBC Radio 4 demanding more of the same. Maybe this leads to more of Gaiman’s works turning into radio drama, maybe it leads to few more brilliantly original story ideas being commissioned by the BBC. But please, may it lead to something! Because once people managing entertainment dollars get a clue as to the potential worldwide audience of audio drama in the 21st century, it is going to be a whole new world for us.
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Ahhh so you want to hear said drama, you say? Here’s the scoop: