His own 'Dynasty': Apple TV+ presents series on Waterford author Jeff Benedict's Patriots book
On a recent weekday morning, Jeff Benedict stands with a visitor in the rear of an otherwise empty Garde Arts Center in New London, taking in the quiet beauty of the place with the familiar assurance of a museum tour guide.
You’d think he works there or something.
Well, actually, he DOES work there. In a sense.
In 2018, Benedict, the successful author of several nonfiction titles such as “Little Pink House,” “Lebron,” “Tiger” (with Armen Keteyian), “The Dynasty” and many more, moved his office into the Garde Cottage behind the main building as the Garde’s writer in residence.
“The Garde has been a magical home for me,” Benedict says. “I wrote ‘The Dynasty’ and ‘LeBron’ books here. I also wrote ‘The Dynasty’ docuseries at The Garde. It’s humbling to think that a story I started creating at the Garde six years ago will now be streamed throughout the world on Apple TV+. For a local boy, that’s a dream come true.”
Wait. What’s that about a “Dynasty” docuseries?
It’s true. On Friday, "The Dynasty: New England Patriots," a 10-episode series based on Benedict’s book – the hyper-successful account of the New England Patriots’ 20-year run of dominance in the National Football League, as spearheaded by the trio of quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft – starts streaming on the Apple TV+ network. The series, a partnership between Benedict's Imagine Documentaries with Apple TV+ in cooperation with the National Football League and the New England Patriots, was directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Matthew Hamachek.
Unlike any of the other books about the Patriots during that time, Benedict is the only writer to have had direct and plentiful access to the team and principal sources, including Kraft, Belichick and Brady. And, as per sales and critical response, Benedict delivered an amazing analysis of one of the most distinctive success stories in sports history. The successes, the cheating accusations, trouble on and off the field – and mostly an amazing amalgam of talent, chemistry and will.
“You know, I actually thought comparing the Patriots’ run to its predecessors – the Steelers or 49ers or Cowboys – didn’t capture the magnitude,” Benedict says. “I think what the Patriots have done to American football and American sports is probably more comparable to what the Beatles did with popular music. There was music before the Beatles; of course there was. There’s music after the Beatles. But they’ll always be the bellwether, and that’s how I think the Patriots will always be remembered.”
A new job profile
Benedict served as one of the executive producers on “The Dynasty” along with familiar TV/film folks like Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, and it was a project the author anticipated and worked towards even as he was preparing the manuscript.
Given that preparation and planning, it shouldn’t be a surprise Benedict’s work on the series was far more than a casual or honorary title tossed in because he authored the book. For one thing, the series doesn’t just replicate material on the pages. The themes, anecdotes and lineup of participating on-camera sources are vastly expanded – for a variety of very good reasons. And Benedict had to develop and marshal those ingredients.
“(The series) was a full-time job for three-and-a-half years,” Benedict says, smiling. “And I DID know what I was signing up for.”
He’s referring to the fact that, over the course of his career, four of Benedict’s books have been turned into films or television shows: “Little Pink House,” “Tiger,” “QB” (co-written with ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young) and “Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food.”
“There was a learning curve to all those experiences,” Benedict says. “On each of those projects, I learned a little more and a little more. And my degree of participation and control also evolved with each of those book-to-film projects. So by the time I started writing the ‘Dynasty’ book, I was already thinking about turning it into other things after publication.”
Credit Benedict with a meteorologist’s acuity at knowing which way the wind blows – or is going to blow.
“I know how hard it is to sell a book to a movie studio or a streaming service or a production company,” Benedict says. “I mean, it’s one thing to sell, but it’s much different to actually get it made.”
One of the things Benedict has learned – and not just from his personal experiences turning books to visual – is that media is very different and always changing. Consumers today expect quick-hit images; hell, they almost demand it. And Benedict, just observing trends in social media and entertainment – or even watching how his kids consume media – adapted his writing for modern readers and with an eye for an eventual product in film or screening.
“One thing that’s very important now as a writer is it’s really important to read the book visually,” he says. “And I think that helps not only the reader but, in this case, the movie studios and streaming services. If they can see the book while they’re reading it, they can see the film or the series in their mind’s eye. That’s really important.
“So I wrote ‘Dynasty’ in a certain way. I wrote it to be a visual book that has no literal pictures, but I created those pictures in the mind’s eye,” Benedict explains. “And I wrote it already thinking of the seven streaming services I hoped to pitch it to one day.”
In fact, the book created such a buzz that Benedict was able to pitch the project to the entire murderer’s row of streamers: Disney, Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Peacock, Showtime and, of course, Apple. And, as suggested by his original concept, Benedict had every intention of being completely involved on every level possible.
“I mean, this was my idea to do it,” he says. “This was a story that I didn’t want to just sell and get paid some money for selling it, which I’ve done with some of my books at a time when I was content to do that. In this case, I wanted it to be my full-time job, and I wanted it to take over my life the same way the book did when I was writing that.”
Timing and luck
As he talks, Benedict’s tone takes on a decided energy and a sense of anticipation. He’s clearly jazzed about the upcoming series – not just because it’s happening but because he’s proud of how it turned out. He’s also aware of extraneous and fortuitous factors that helped along the way. Timing and circumstances, for example.
“It’s happened twice to me as a storyteller,” Benedict says. “When the book came out, Tom left (the Patriots to go to Tampa Bay). Obviously, you can’t plan for that. There was no genius at (publisher) Simon & Schuster who said, ‘Let’s bring the book out right now.’ It just happened that way – and the timing was amazing in terms of attention.
“And now here comes the series right on the heels of Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft parting ways. That’s spontaneity. Timing is important in life, but also in the arts for publishing books or releasing films or television shows. And it’s certainly helped me and these projects.”
For fans and potential viewers, the immense visual component of the series promises to be amazing. The project licensed over 35,000 hours of archival footage that was evaluated by a team of over 50 people. And, thanks to the universally laudatory response to Benedict’s original reporting, sources who were reluctant to speak extensively for the book – or who declined to be interviewed – were much more cooperative for the series. And of course, Belichick, Brady and Kraft all sat for subsequent conversations.
Endings and beginnings
“What we’ve covered is an amazing story that came to an end,” Benedict says. “It’s like a long marriage where one of the spouses passed away and the survivors have to get on with their lives. There are so many wonderful memories, and it’s hard to move on. It’s sad. But I’m glad we got to tell this story.”
As the series draws nigh, Benedict can take a deep breath and, in his modest way, acknowledge the accomplishment. But other pleasant chores beckon. He’s well along in the research stages for his next book, which is another biography about whom it can’t yet be disclosed. And that makes him happy.
“When I decided to get into writing, I wanted it to be a job I could get up and do every day for the long haul,” he says. “The world’s changed a lot since then, and it’s changing fast. Publishing’s changed, media’s changed. And so I’ve had to continually reinvent myself to ensure that the books I’m writing can transform into documentaries, scripted series, movies, Broadway plays or whatever. They have to have that capability. Things overlap and a lot of times I’m doing different aspects of different projects. But you learn how to adapt and there’s enjoyment and fulfillment in that.”
What: "The Dynasty: New England Patriots"
Based on: Jeff Benedict's bestselling book "The Dynasty"
When and where: Premieres Friday on Apple TV+ (check schedule for airtime)
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