Sci-fi novel 'Redshirts' heads to FX as a TV series

What if the red-shirted "Star Trek" ensigns knew the odds of returning from away missions were near zero? John Scalzi talks about the upcoming TV adaptation of his satirical book "Redshirts."

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Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
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John Scalzi's sci-fi comedic novel "Redshirts" will soon be a limited-series TV show on FX.
John Scalzi's sci-fi comedic novel "Redshirts" will soon be a limited-series TV show on FX. Tor Books

If you've watched any episodes of the original "Star Trek," you know that wearing a red shirt means you might as well be donning a giant bull's-eye. The life expectancy of a red-shirted ensign is very short, but what if they knew their survival rate was so low? Author John Scalzi explores that exact scenario in his award-winning book "Redshirts."

The comedic sci-fi novel, which was released in 2012 and won the 2013 Hugo Award, is now being developed as a limited TV series for FX by producer Jon Shestack ("Open Grave"); producer-director Ken Kwapis ("He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"); and producer Alexandra Beattie ("Outsourced"). Kwapis will direct the first episode, and the search for writers to work on the series is in progress.

"I'm going to be an executive producer and consultant for the series, so I should have a decent amount of input," Scalzi told Crave. "But from my point of view as the writer of the novel, what I want is to be the least competent person in the room. Ken Kwapis directed the finale of 'The Office' and worked on a lot of other great comedy television, and the rest of the team comes in with lots of experience. I'll definitely have input, but adapting the novel will be a team effort."

The book, set in the 25th century, follows Ensign Andrew Dahl on his assignment to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union. Andrew is excited to serve on "away missions" alongside the starship's legendary senior officers. Life seems perfect until he begins to notice that every away mission involves a deadly confrontation with alien forces. The ship's senior officers always survive, and more importantly, at least one low-ranking crew member is killed, which of course, makes for a very paranoid workplace if you happen to be an ensign. Andrew and his fellow ensigns soon learn they are actually on a TV show and discover that they are not the main characters. It's like "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" -- in space.

As the author of "Redshirts" -- which was inspired by "Star Trek" -- Scalzi revealed that he never initially envisioned his book to become a TV show itself.

"I think everyone who writes a book sort of wonders how it would play on TV or in the movies, but that's not a motivating factor for me," Scalzi said. "You have to focus on what you're doing, which is writing a novel, not a proto-screenplay. That said, given the material, I don't think it's any surprise that when I think about the story, I can imagine where the camera goes in most scenes."

The book is jam-packed with comedy, action, and a bit of warped reality, which should make its fans proud if the writing team can translate the book's charm to television. "I want to see the battle scenes, because I'm a nerd like that," Scalzi said. "But that's the nice thing about doing a limited series. We'll have enough time to get most of the really good scenes in the book into the series. The challenge is making sure that what works on the page is made to work on the screen -- it's why it's an adaptation, not a straight take from the novel."

When you're wearing a red shirt on an away mission with your superior officers, don't expect to move up the corporate ladder anytime soon.
When you're wearing a red shirt on an away mission with your superior officers, don't expect to move up the corporate ladder anytime soon. Paramount Pictures

So far no casting choices have been revealed, and even Scalzi is staying quiet on his dream list.

"I still need to talk to Ken, Jon, and Alexandra about who is on my wish list, so I should probably keep mum about it until I do," Scalzi said. "Twitter definitely hasn't been shy in making suggestions, however -- and I agree with many of the suggestions I've seen there."

Follow Scalzi on Twitter in case he decides to eventually let it slip who he'd like to see play Ensign Andrew Dahl and the rest of the crew on "Redshirts."