The upcoming season of FX’s ‘Justified’ comes not only with a new location (Detroit) but also with a new title: ‘Justified: City Primeval’. The name comes from a 1980 novel by Elmore Leonard, the author whose character Raylan Givens from “Riding the Rap,” “Fire in the Hole” and others inspired the original iteration of “Justified” when it was pitched for the first time in 2010. Yet “City Primeval” is not a book by Raylan Givens – so how did it end up as source material for a season of “Justified?”
According to co-showrunner Michael Dinner, who directed three of the new season’s eight episodes, the initial intention wasn’t to create a mash-up of “City Primeval” and “Justified,” but to create a direct adaptation of ” City Primeval”. “We were done with ‘Justified,’ and a few years later I got a call from Elmore’s estate,” Dinner told IndieWire. “His son of him said, ‘Do you know ‘City Primeval?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ He said, “Well, would you have an interest in turning that into a show?” And I said, ‘Yes.’”
Dinner, a key creative force behind the original six seasons of “Justified,” knew the novel’s historic past in the annals of Hollywood cinema. Sam Peckinpah tried his hand at making “City Primeval” in the early 1980s from a script by Leonard himself, and it was one of several Leonard novels that Quentin Tarantino flirted with before turning “Rum Punch” into “Jackie Brown.” Dinner was developing the book as a show of his own when he got a call from “Justified” star Timothy Olyphant, who was filming “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” with Tarantino. They were discussing ‘City Primeval’ and agreed it was going to be a great season of ‘Justified’.
Dinner thought the idea was interesting, but due to a complicated rights situation, it seemed unlikely. A year after Tarantino and Olyphant first came up with the idea, Dinner signed an exclusive deal with FX which revived the idea. “They said, ‘What are you thinking of doing?’ And I said, ‘Do you know ‘City Primeval’?’ They said, “Yeah, Tim pitched it to us a year ago.” I said, ‘Well, let me pitch it to you as a standalone thing, and you tell me if you want to do it as a standalone thing or a season of ‘Justified.’
FX loved the camp and decided they were really going to adapt “City Primeval” as a season of “Justified,” which created both an opportunity and a challenge for Dinner. “We were a little concerned about that, to tell you the truth,” Dinner said. “(The book) was kind of a jewel in the crown, and we didn’t want to do it a disservice.” Dinner and co-showrunner Dave Andron went with what Dinner described as a “mash-up” approach: “We threw Raylan into this story and let it evolve.”
The result is pure joy for Elmore Leonard fans, as Dinner and Andron keep the spirit – and most importantly, the terrifying villain, Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) – of “City Primeval” while also taking Raylan Givens in new directions. “This is kind of the second act,” Dinner said. “We have a character who is at a different time in his life. The road ahead of him is much shorter than the one behind him.” So if this is the second act, does that mean there will be a third? “We’ll see if the public responds to that, and then FX has to make a decision. I know Tim would love to do that. Dave Andron would love to do that. I’d like to see where Raylan ends up. That would make me very, very happy.”