×

How ‘The Simpsons’ Inspired Simon Rich’s ‘Miracle Workers’ Adaptation

Simon Rich is no stranger to adapting his own novels for the screen, so when it came time to turn his 2012 work “What in God’s Name” into a series (TBS’ renamed “Miracle Workers”), he admits it never even crossed his mind that someone else would write the scripts. The story centers on God’s decision to blow up Earth (so he can instead focus on his passion of opening a restaurant) and two angels’ determination to stop him.

Designing a Deity
In the years in between the publication of “What in God’s Name” and his adaptation of “Miracle Workers,” Rich turned out a handful of other novels — one of which he adapted into another television show (FX’s “Man Seeking Woman”). When approaching this project, he felt “pretty removed from the novel” and purposely decided not to re-read it before starting his writers’ room. He also didn’t ask his staff to read it.

“I wanted to make sure that people were completely untethered to the text and felt free to pitch whatever they wanted, even if it had nothing to do with the book,” he says.

While the story remained unchanged, Rich and his team were more flexible with the characters, often adapting them based on who was cast. Most specifically, this applied to God, who in the television series was played by Steve Buscemi.

“If you read the novel, the character of God is certainly in over his head and not an intellectual, but his characterization is different — you wouldn’t necessarily picture Steve,” Rich says.

In that version, God’s office is all decked out and he spends a lot of time with American pastimes, such as sports, Rich points out. But for the television series, after spending a day watching Buscemi’s movies to capture his “amazing, unique voice,” the character became a bit more disenchanted and eccentric.

World-Ending Announcement
The pivotal, plot-setting moment in the novel — when God announces he will blow up Earth — comes in the form of a company-wide memo he writes and sends to his angels. Naturally, for a visual medium such as television, Rich felt the need to adapt it into a verbal message.

Inspired by “The Simpsons,” Rich put Buscemi’s God on a pedestal and at a microphone in front of his whole company. “I did a Mr. Burns announcement and I even have kind of a power plant thing happening in the background,” he says. This also allowed for cutting to immediate reactions of the workers, focusing primarily on Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Craig (Daniel Radcliffe).

As in the novel, “the main thing I was trying to convey in that scene in the novel was God’s flippancy,” Rich says. However, he made a key change with God’s inspiration for the decision.

In the novel, God’s letter includes a line about Eliza being the one who “put things in perspective” and offered “persuasive arguments” that led him to the decision. Rich toyed with the idea of God giving her a shout-out in the scene in the series, as well, but ultimately opted against it.

“Everybody stared at her like, ‘What have you done?’ It was funny, and we shot it, but the reason I ended up cutting it was because it made the other characters seem too invested in saving planet Earth,” he says. “The reality that we were trying to get across was that nobody really cares about this planet anymore when this story begins. It isn’t until the end of the season when most of the workers become invested.”

More TV

  • ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback

    ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback on Sat.1

    “Big Brother” is returning to German screens after a five-year break. Sat.1 will air the German version of the show, which will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Endemol format that paved the way for a raft of other unscripted shows around the world. Sat.1 said it would also run a celebrity version of [...]

  • ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets

    ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets Reboot by PBS, Viacom’s Channel 5

    A new adaptation of “All Creatures Great and Small” is in the works for Viacom’s Channel 5 in the U.K. and Masterpiece on PBS in the U.S. The source books by James Herriot, about country veterinarians in 1930s rural England, were made into a much-loved 1978-90 British series that ran to 90 episodes, which also [...]

  • THE F WORD WITH GORDON RAMSAY:

    Viacom Adds Pluto TV Drama, Food, and Movies to Channel 5’s On-Demand Service

    Viacom is adding a trio of channels from its recently-acquired Pluto TV to My5, the on-demand service of Channel 5, the U.K. free-to-air broadcaster it also owns. Ad-supported OTT service Pluto TV is already available in the U.K., but the My5 deal widens its distribution. It also bulks up My5 at a time when traditional [...]

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Related Amazon's Branding Problem, New Networks Aim for [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content