Haines resident Heather Lende is a newspaper obituary writer, author and assembly member. Soon, she could be an executive producer on a TV show based on her life. An international TV production company has optioned the rights for two of Lende’s memoirs. The small town of Haines may have more than 15 minutes of fame if the show comes to fruition.
Imagine getting an email from TV producers with a list of famous actresses who might play you.
“It’s really funny,” said Lende. “Like you do kind of think, is this real? And then you think well maybe. And then you think no, it might not be. And then you think well, it could be. So I don’t know, I guess part of me will believe it when I see it.”
There aren’t any actors attached to the show yet. But there is an international media company, which touts shows like “American Gods” and “The Young Pope.” And there are producers heading the project who worked on shows like “Call the Midwife” and “The Honourable Woman.”
Lende says one of those producers visited Haines last year, during the talks leading up to this announcement.
“We kind of thought well, let’s check him out and invite him to dinner with a bunch of friends and let them kind of drill him on the whole thing,” Lende said. “And when he passed, they all left and said ‘I think it’s gonna be OK. He’s got it and they’re gonna do right by you.'”
“That was me,” said Christian Vesper, an executive with FremantleMedia.
He says a colleague of his got interested in Lende’s books after reading a BBC article about her. Fremantle reached out to Lende, and things progressed from there. Vesper is based in New York. He explains his interest in the project.
“You know it’s a really tense and divisive time right now,” Vesper said. “And I think there’s space on television for a story about family, and life and death. I think Heather’s writing and stories are very optimistic and humane and I think there’s a place in the world for that right now.”
Lende says when she first heard from Fremantle, she had some concerns.
“My books are about my life, and they’re also about this community and it’s everything I care about,” Lende said. “So I want to make sure it’s done right.”
Working with the producers, Lende established safeguards which she thinks will protect people’s privacy. The show will be inspired by her books, it won’t be an exact recreation. She says the main character probably won’t even be named Heather. And the town won’t be called Haines.
“It will be a small town in Alaska, we might even call it Port Chilkoot,” Lende said. “And Haines will certainly be able to claim it. But we’re being pretty careful there too.”
Lende says her understanding is that the show will be like a mix of “Murder She Wrote” and “Northern Exposure.” Each episode will be structured around an obituary.
“And in the writing of that there will be some existential issue that is solved through the course of it,” Lende said. “And [they] will find the good by the end of the show.”
Fremantle optioned the rights for two of Lende’s books, her very first memoir, “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name,” and her latest, “Find the Good.” Lende says she purposely excluded her second book, “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs.”
“The middle book is my most personal,” Lende said. “About getting run over, my mom dying, and there’s a lot of faith in it. I actually held that one out for now to see how it all works out, if I’m confident that it’s gonna go well.”
If it does go well, Lende might allow the TV producers to use those experiences, including the one where she was run over by a truck while riding her bike.
“That’s like made-for-TV, right?” Lende quips.
The most recent drama in Lende’s life is political. She is one of three assembly members targeted in a recall election this August. Lende says she doesn’t know if the recall will make it into the show.
“You know, drama is drama, and it’s pretty dramatic what’s going on right now,” Lende said. “But that’ll depend on when they need the plot twist or depending on what happens, I don’t know.”
Lende says Haines is a dramatic town, on all kinds of levels. But she thinks what fascinates outsiders about this place is more than that.
“I think people are craving community and connection,” Lende said. “Connection to both other people and a place in the kind of way that we have here. That’s just increasingly rare in the world. And I think that really appeals to people.”
Fremantle’s Christian Vesper says a writer is on board to develop a pitch for TV networks. He says it’s impossible to predict whether the show will get picked up, and if it does, it’s hard to say how long it would take before the fictional version of Haines makes it to TV.