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How the Pandemic Inspired ‘Dear Edward’ Showrunner Jason Katims’ New Series: ‘I’m Moved by the Power to Move on’

The ”Friday Night Lights“ creator and cast talk to TheWrap about departures from the book

Showrunner Jason Katims’ new series “Dear Edward” deftly navigates the space between grief and resilience, but in doing so, some changes from the best-selling book by author Ann Napolitano were necessary.

With Napolitano’s blessing, Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) expanded the story of Edward Adler (Colin O’Brien), the sole survivor of a tragic plane crash, to include both book-based characters and completely new ones. Following the crash, Edward’s aunt Lacy (Taylor Schilling), and her husband John (Carter Hudson) take care of him.

Napolitano’s novel took inspiration from the story of Ruben Van Assouw, the lone survivor of a 2010 plane crash. The tragedy of 9/11 haunted the beginning of the book, but Katims harnessed the events of the COVID-19 pandemic for his storytelling.

“While the show does not live in the world of COVID, to me that is the metaphor here rather than 9/11 because it is a story about this unimaginable thing happening to all these people, and what do you do when this thing unexpectedly hits and you lose people, your life changes, and how do we go on from here?” he continued. “That’s what I look at. As we’re still all trying to kind of figure out what the world is, what it all means. I’m moved by the power to move on, no matter what happens.”

Colin O’Brien, who portrays Edward, read the book after he finished filming for the show. 

“There a couple of storylines and characters that aren’t originally in the book that were added to this show, which I think really help paint the picture of more ways that people deal with grief and more examples,” he told TheWrap.

Anna Uzele portrays a character “from the mind of Jason Katims” — Adriana Washington. Uzele still read the book even though her character was not in it. Adriana deals with the loss of her grandmother, Congresswoman Rose Washington, who she also worked for as a political aide.

“[Reading the book] was really instrumental in me understanding Edward’s journey because I don’t interact with him very much and didn’t get to see [Colin] that much on set either,” she told TheWrap. “But it was so lovely to get into the brain of this 12 year-old boy and his loss because grieving is a whole different story as a child, when it’s your entire family. You’re not an adult. I had the audio book in my headphones as I was shooting.”

In the book, those who lost loved ones in the crash write letters to Edward expressing how much he means to them and sometimes projecting hopes and dreams onto him.

“I was very interested in this idea from the book of this boy as Miracle Boy, that everybody puts so much on him and it’s unfair, and yet you understand it,” Katims told TheWrap. “So there are all of these people who are wanting to reach out in some way to him, and what’s beautiful about that and what’s upsetting about that? We wanted that to be something that sort of unravels over the course of the season.” 

Edward receives some of these letters in the show, but family and friends who lose loved ones in the crash come together in Katims’ show more directly than they do in Napolitano’s novel. A counseling support group centered in New York City gathers the friends and family — book-based characters and Katims-created ones like Adriana — together.

“One of the things I wanted to do was create this community of people, this grief group and put it in New York City and make New York a character in the show,” Katims said. “[The book] was so beautiful and moving. I was very excited about telling this story that, while it’s born out of this tragic experience, is really about resilience,” Katims said. “It’s about the power of the human spirit. It’s about moving on. It’s about this found family, and contained in it are all these stories that I love to tell —  complex marriage and falling in love and mother-son stories and mother-daughter stories. It had all the ingredients, and it also felt different than what I’ve done before to me.”

The first six episodes of “Dear Edward” are now streaming on AppleTV+.