Pulizer Prize-winning author Richard Russo is making his first foray into TV series with an untitled HBO drama about the Catskills Gas Rush.
Russo (Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool) will also serve as an executive producer on the project, which is based on a 2008 article in New York Magazine by David France.
The Catskills are believed to hold the largest reservoir of natural gas ever discovered in America. Geologists have known about it for more than a century but it had been largely ignored because the location made it prohibitively expensive to exploit. But the recent discovery of a drilling technique suited for Catskills' terrain and the fact that gas prices have tripled over the past decade suddenly made the region red hot.
However, to make it feasible for exploitation, gas companies have to secure vast swaths of land near where third-generation diary farmers live next door to weekenders, mostly New Yorkers who have bought second homes in the Catskills in droves.
What the article is about is the kind of class war that was shaping up between dairy farmers in some of the poorest land in the North East and a lot of actors, artists, filmmakers and writers who have bought second homes there, Russo said.
These poor farmers now are leasing mineral rights to gas companies, looking to become overnight millionaires as a way to save their farms and their way of life, while the weekenders are very well educated and environmentally conscious and are not anxious to see drilling, chemicals in the air and access roads cutting through their neighborhoods.
What attracted Russo to the subject matter was its context.
I liked the metaphor of what lies beneath our feet, he said. What happens to people's lives when they find out there is something they didn't know about and how it would benefit their lives and how it tends to expose what goes on beneath the surface in their own lives.
The HBO project will begin four years in the past and would allow history to play out, Russo said. Gas companies are still waiting approval from New York State for drilling to start.
The show reunites the author with HBO where he adapted his Empire Falls as a miniseries in 2005. In addition to writing the pilot script for the gas drama, Russo is busy promoting his latest novel, That Old Cape Magic.