From Book to Television: Phoenix Island to Intelligence

phoenix islandPhoenix Island, the debut novel of author John Dixon, packs quite the wallop from the actual storyline in the book to the story surrounding the book itself. Dixon is an interesting case of a first-time novelist, if only for the fact that a major television network bought the rights to his first novel before it was even published! I’m adding that exclamation point because that is a huge deal. Actually, it’s beyond a huge deal. It is a rarity in a business that usually only shells out money for surefire moneymaking hits. I mean it’s hard for published book series with established fandoms to get these kind of deals, and Dixon knocked a home run on his first try. His first book and the television show based on Phoenix Island, CBS’s Intelligence (airing Monday nights at 10/9c), were almost simultaneously released to the world at large back in January.  Serious kudos goes to this guy.

Dixon talks more about this incredible story in an interview with his hometown newspaper here.

It was also this story that really drove my desire to write about how the adaptation from book to screen ended up playing out. It seemed especially interesting to me because the television creators would have more freedom in their adaptation because Dixon’s series did not have an established fandom yet. The upside to not having an established fandom behind the book your basing your series around is that you can’t annoy the fandom. Fandoms can be relentless. Look at all the hoopla casting can cause. Twitter trends have been caused by much less. Not to mention when the adapted work finally does see the light of day there are the inevitable articles that break down everything missed, changed, or totally screwed up in the adaptation according to the fandom. CBS and Michael Seitzman, the show’s creator, did not have to worry about this pressure– so how did they do?

Well, I would say as a person that is now a fan of Intelligence and the Phoenix Island, I almost wish I didn’t know there was a connection between the two. To say that Intelligence is an adaptation of Dixon’s novel is really pushing it. It’s definitely based on Island, at least sort of one plot point in Island, but really that’s where the similarities decidedly end. Dixon is a former boxer, prison tutor and middle school English teacher, all of which bleeds into Phoenix Island. The story is definitely geared towards a YA audience leading with a 16-year old anti-hero protagonist named Carl. Carl stands up to bullies, albeit in all the wrong ways. This leads towards his incarceration at Phoenix Island– what’s thought to be a run of the mill Scared Straight-style boot camp for orphan youths. Spoiler alert: It’s not. Something far more sinister is afoot! It’s Lord of the Flies meets boot camp mashed up with Rambo and maybe some Terminator. Phoenix Island is a crazy fun ride to read and was definitely worth the price of admission.

That is not what Intelligence is about… Intelligence is a fascinating show by all means, and something I would normally recommend– but just not to fans of Phoenix Island. First of all the main characters DO NOT have the same names. Carl, our anti-hero from Phoenix Island, is nowhere to be seen in the Intelligence world. Our new main character is Gabriel, a forty-something military hero who due to some rare genetic marker is able to have a microchip implanted in his brain connecting him essentially to the Information Super Highway. Gabriel works for a covert organization in the US government called Cyber Command partnered with a tough former female Secret Service agent tasked to protect “the chip.”


Cool concept, but what does that have to do with Phoenix Island and where did the YA appeal go?! Without getting too spoilery, there is a microchip in Dixon’s novel although his microchip does very different things then the one in the television show. It’s also very hard for me to reconcile the very flawed and teenaged Carl from the book, who I feel very much fits into the anti-hero persona, with Gabriel the adult U.S war hero from the television show. Intelligence is a very entertaining show and one I will continue to watch, but it just doesn’t have the same vibe or YA appeal as Phoenix Island.

I can’t help but wonder if this is the show CBS would have made is Dixon’s Island would have had an established YA fandom. I don’t think so, but what do you think, readers? What do you think of Dixon’s debut novel Phoenix Island and/or CBS’s new show Intelligence?

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

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Katie Shanahan Yu

Katie Shanahan Yu is a Media Specialist for a middle school in Rockville, MD. Find her on Twitter: @kakakates