Thursday, September 10, 2009

Books on TV

So far, TRUE BLOOD, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, has been wildly successful. This fall at least two new fantasy series derived from books will be launched: THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and EASTWICK. I liked L. J. Smith’s “Vampire Diaries” YA books very much when they were originally published, so I’m looking forward to this adaptation (it starts tonight). There are enough novels in the series to carry on a television show for several seasons. I’ll be interested to see what kind of program will be made out of THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. In this case, because the source work’s story comes to a decisive conclusion, the closed plot of the novel will have to be converted into an open-ended situation that can continue indefinitely if the show becomes popular. I suspect EASTWICK will turn out to be one of those works that I like much better as a TV series than as a book or movie, like THE PAPER CHASE (and MASH, but I haven’t read MASH and can’t claim to have given the movie a fair chance; it took only five minutes of viewing to realize I’d probably dislike the film, which seemed to differ widely in tone from the TV program I loved).

To make a good TV series, a book—or, better yet, a book series—probably needs to contain a world wide enough, with a potential variety of characters and-or events large enough, to support an indefinitely prolonged run. Or, if the story has a built-in definite conclusion, such as graduation from law school in THE PAPER CHASE, the progress toward the conclusion should take long enough to allow the story to grow over several seasons. (Another of my favorite shows, THE WEST WING, although not based on a printed work, illustrates this principle well. The series logically ended with the inauguration of President Bartlet’s successor. Since the story began in the first year of his presidency, that plan allowed a seven-season run.) THE DEAD ZONE, based on the Stephen King novel, was one show I followed devotedly each summer until it was canceled. To make this tragic story into a viable open-ended TV series, the writers did what I expect to be done with EASTWICK; elements of the novel were rewritten so that the protagonist didn’t have to die to achieve his goal of saving the world from a dangerous politician. That change left him free to use his powers to solve many mysteries instead of the few he encountered in the novel.

If such a change isn’t feasible, a novel transferred to television becomes a mini-series. One of my cherished fantasies is someday seeing a mini-series made from THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY by Suzy McKee Charnas. The novel comprises five sections, each with a distinct storyline. The last two are both set in New Mexico, and the fourth is considerably shorter and simpler than the other sections. Therefore, a four-hour miniseries would be the perfect film venue for this novel, with the last two sections combined into the last hour of film.

As for open-ended fiction, a cartoon series was made from Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels, set in a multi-generational world with nearly unlimited room for stories, even if the show had eventually used up the existing tales in the books (which I don’t think it did).

What other book series would make good open-ended TV series? There are quite a few I can think of that contain worlds rich enough to sustain a series for many years. Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah’s Sime-Gen universe, of course. Special effects now permit realistic depiction of tentacles. ALIEN NATION demonstrated that a mass audience could accept relationships between two different kinds of humanity as a subject for prime-time TV. I’d love to see a series based in the Sime-Gen world right before and during the period of Unity. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover. Either the period of THE FORBIDDEN TOWER and SHATTERED CHAIN or the events of a generation later, around the time of THE BLOODY SUN, would work. I think I would go for the earlier period, when Terrans and Darkovans are just starting to learn about each other. The world of the Change in S. M. Stirling’s series that begins with DIES THE FIRE. In the late 1990s, all advanced technology mysteriously and instantaneously stops working. The people who survive the initial collapse of civilization have to build a new society based on pre-industrial culture. Naturally, some have a head start, e.g. survivalists, historical re-enactors, and members of organizations such as the Society for Creative Anachronism. The series comprises six books now, with, apparently, more to come. A couple of short stories set in the same universe, with different settings and characters from those in the novels, have also been published. This fictional world has room for an infinite number of stories, and given that there are at least two post-apocalyptic TV shows premiering in 2009-2010, its theme that would probably appeal to producers and audiences.

With so many fantasy and SF programs on the air (and cable) this year, we may be entering a golden age of spec fic on TV. We can only hope.

What books do you dream of seeing made into TV shows?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. I'd like to see a series where they take the Hugo winners from a year and anthologize them. Get someone cool to introduce each story and go nuts. As an odd trick, they could use the same set of unknown but talented actors each week. Treat it like an acting troupe, but for TV and for SciFi.

    Yeah, that'll happen. Nice thought though.

  2. "As an odd trick, they could use the same set of unknown but talented actors each week. Treat it like an acting troupe, but for TV and for SciFi."

    Not totally unbelievable. Boris Karloff's THRILLER used a recurring cast of actors for its anthology-type series. William Shatner was one of them! And a fair number of the episodes were based on published short stories.

  3. Anonymous8:06 PM EDT

    I would love to see Sime-Gen and Darkover stories on TV, or even something based on Zenna Henderson's "People" stories.