Ghost Ship tragedy: Michael Chabon on the scrapped TV series
Berkeley author Michael Chabon, reflecting on the decision he and Ayelet Waldman made to scrap a TV series about the Oakland Ghost Ship tragedy, said “it was never our intention to hurt anyone.”
In December, the husband-wife writing team signed a multi-year production deal with CBS Television Studios and revealed at the time that a fictionalized production about the 2016 fire that killed 36 people was among several projects on their to-do list. But just days later, they dropped those plans after an outcry from relatives of the victims.
Chabon spoke of the decision this week during a visit to the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
“I get it,” he said of the backlash. “I think it’s a shame, but I completely understand.”
“As soon as we started to hear from some of the parents of the victims — asking us, powerfully and meaningfully — not to do it, that was it,” he added. “Some were saying, ‘Please don’t do this’ and others were saying, ‘If you do this, it’s really going to hurt.’ ”
But Chabon said he and Waldman were disappointed when some critics claimed they were trying to capitalize on a tragedy.
“It was reported that we were taking money for it — that we got paid for it. That’s not true,” he said. “We have a deal at CBS, where we get paid whatever we make. It wasn’t like we were trying to cash in on that story.
“We thought it was a powerful story. We thought it was a story that wasn’t over yet. It seemed obvious to both of us that justice had not been done, that there hadn’t been enough of a reckoning. And we thought by telling the story, that could become part of the reckoning, and make the story more widely known. We could look at the questions like, ‘Why and how did this happen?’ And not just not from a cause-and-effect basis, but societally and systemically and all that stuff.”
Asked if he and Waldman might reconsider the project when more time has passed, he replied, “I don’t think so. There are plenty other stories to do.”
When Chabon and Waldman abandoned the project, they released a statement that said, in part, “We believe in the power of art, and specifically of this medium, to effect change, and had hoped to harness that power not just on behalf of the victims of this tragedy but also to help to call to account those who most bear responsibility for it. …”
Chabon was at the TCA press tour to participate in a panel session for “Star Trek: Picard,” a new drama series debuting next week on the CBS All Access streaming site. Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, is the showrunner for the series, in which Patrick Stewart reprises the iconic role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, the character he played for seven seasons on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and in four “Star Trek” films.