Bob Odenkirk in “Lucky Hank,” which debuts March 19 on AMC. It’s based on the Richard Russo novel “Straight Man.” Photo by Sergei Bachlakov/AMC

A new TV series based on Portland author Richard Russo’s novel “Straight Man” will begin airing March 19, the AMC cable network announced Tuesday.

The show is called “Lucky Hank,” after the college professor who is the book’s main character, and will star Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk most recently starred in the hit AMC series “Better Call Saul.”

Russo declined to talk about the new series, saying he’d rather not take attention away from the writers and others who have worked to make the show.

“The show’s writers are using my book as a launching pad to tell their own story in their own way,” Russo said in an email to the Press Herald. “I don’t want the spotlight on me. It’s their show.”

The show also stars Mireille Enos, Aaron Zelman and Paul Lieberstein. Like the 1997 novel, the series is set at a small college in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania town and focuses on the comic/tragic life of an English professor, William Henry Devereaux Jr., going through a midlife crisis.

The show will run for at least eight episodes, AMC said in announcing the premiere date. AMC had announced last April that the series was being developed and that Odenkirk would star.

Russo has said that much of the material in “Straight Man” about how a college English department functions – or doesn’t – came from his time teaching at Southern Illinois University and Southern Connecticut State University. He also taught at Colby College in Waterville, but most of “Straight Man” was written before he started that job. 

“Straight Man” would be the first of Russo’s novels to be made into a full-length TV series. “Nobody’s Fool” was made into a 1994 film starring Paul Newman, and Russo’s 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Empire Falls” was made into a two-episode miniseries for HBO, also starring Paul Newman, in 2005. “Empire Falls” was set in a fictional Maine mill town and was shot in Maine, with extensive filming in the Waterville and Skowhegan areas.

Russo’s next book, “Somebody’s Fool,” is due out in July.

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