TORONTO — Acclaimed TV writer Ken Finkleman says he had no grand ambitions when he embarked on his satirical novel, Noah’s Turn, but admits it was partly inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic, Crime and Punishment.
The small-screen veteran says he started simply with a character sketch about a murderous script writer — a self-absorbed, neurotic hack who Finkleman admits is “struggling in the ways that I’m familiar with, who knows people that I might know.”
Divorced, unemployed and crippled by insecurity, Noah explodes when his best friend McEwen gloats over a stellar review of his latest novel. Noah buries a machete into his rival’s neck in a jealous fury, an explosive act he tells himself will release him from stifling societal pressures.
Finkleman says he had read about 200 pages of Crime and Punishment just before embarking on Noah’s tale, and though he’d been pondering Dostoyevsky’s existential ideas, he insists that his breezy black comedy had no such philosophical aspirations.
“I didn’t try to deal with any essential questions of human nature, I didn’t attempt to examine the plight of modern man,” Finkleman says during a recent interview over a quick lunch at a favourite French cheese shop.
“I simply had this one character in my head and I didn’t judge the character. I had no intentions of using this character as symbolic…. and I just wrote a couple pages and wrote a couple more pages. I wasn’t doing anything at the time. I was sleeping a lot in the afternoon, drinking a lot…. and then it just sort of started to evolve.”
Finkleman, best known for portraying the egotistical news producer George Findlay on the CBC-TV satire The Newsroom, says he had long been intrigued by the notion that breaking free from conventional life required extreme, violent measures.
“I always thought this was a curious idea about somebody in a bit of a rut, that if I reached across the table and took a knife and stabbed you right now it wouldn’t be good for my life but it would totally transform my life,” says Finkleman, whose celebrated TV series skewered sensational journalism with a dim-witted newscaster and shallow news producer.
“And I thought that that’s an interesting notion. That to me is about the only thing we have control over in our lives, is that move. And that’s the great existential moment.”
Finkleman’s turn to novel-writing comes after establishing his anti-hero George Findlay as one of TV’s most memorable megalomaniacs, back when Larry David was still behind the scenes on Seinfeld.
In person, Finkleman embodies George’s reputation for neurosis by preceding a media interview with several minutes of concern over how the chat would be conducted, and later dissecting the way questions are phrased.
After revisiting George Findlay with the TV projects, More Tears, Foolish Heart, Foreign Objects and Escape From the Newsroom the Winnipeg-born show creator is resurrecting the neurotic character with a new comedy for The Movie Network/Movie Central called, “Good Dog.”
The Shaftesbury Films production catches up with George dating a gorgeous woman half his age and with his own TV show.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” says Finkleman, who admits he hasn’t watched TV in years and derides the few minutes he’s seen of the critical hits, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos.
“It is simply life of a modern man of this age in the city. It’s got a feel that goes back to, for me, in a very strange way, and I’ll possibly be taken to task for saying this, but it goes back to … French new wave. It’s just talking about things that are going on, things that are happening, things around. There’s always a discourse, there’s always something that is being discussed…. and there’s not a lot of plot. And it is the most unusual thing that I’ve ever seen on TV.”
Noah’s Turn hits bookshelves Saturday.