Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Books into TV Series

It rained last night, and that seems to have washed some of the pollen from the air, so I'm feeling marginally better, though still not big on the thinking. I suspect there may not be much writing today, as forming coherent thoughts and then putting them into words isn't my strong suit today (it's taken me about five minutes to write this paragraph).

I've also got post-panelitis, that strange malady in which you come up with what you should have said on a panel days after the convention is over. It's worse this year because of the general fog I was in most of the weekend, which meant I really wasn't thinking at my best. My last panel of the weekend was on books being adapted as television series, and when asked my favorite, I couldn't think of anything. About the best I could do was the miniseries approach and Pride and Prejudice, and I was at a total loss for anything else other than The Dresden Files, True Blood and Flashforward, which had already been discussed somewhat.

I'd forgotten about The Dead Zone, which may not really be my favorite book-into-series, since I stopped watching it well before the end, but I think it was one of the more interesting uses of a book as the basis for a series. On the surface, it looked like a closed-ending story, but the situation, main plot aside, offered a lot of ongoing potential. There's a guy who's been in a coma for years who wakes up and finds that a lot has changed in his absence, and now he can see things about people when he touches things they touched. They didn't follow the main plot of the book in the first couple of seasons, but a lot of the episode plots grew out of incidents in the book. They did later bring in the main plot of the book as the story arc, and that was when I lost interest because it was about politics and I have zero interest in watching politics or politicians in anything. But I did like the way the TV series was really based on the book without following the book slavishly. You could tell the series writers had actually read the book and they were mining it for story ideas.

The tricky thing about adapting a book for a TV series is that books generally have a definite ending (unless they're the Never-Ending Doorstopper Fantasy Series) and television series generally don't. Even if the TV series does end up with a definite ending, they don't know from the start when that ending will come because it depends on how successful the series is. The series could run three episodes or a hundred, or more. Meanwhile, the plot for your average novel is way too much to pack into even two hours of television but not enough to fill out an entire season without doing a lot of fleshing out of the situation. Because of this, a series based on a book is usually based not so much on the plot of that book as on the concept, situation and characters. A book that lends itself to a series is set in a place where things can happen and involves characters who can do stuff, far beyond the events in the specific plot of the book. That may be why so many mystery book series get turned into TV series. An ongoing mystery series is all about concept, characters and situations that lend themselves to lots of plots. They may stick to the first book for the first episode to provide the origin story, but after that, the series and the books occupy different worlds.

To an author, a TV series based on your books is pretty much a ticket to bestsellerdom (unless you were already there) because even an unsuccessful series is seen by millions of people, so it's like a weekly, hour-long ad for your books, not to mention all the promotion for the series, which goes well beyond anything publishing ever does for even their biggest books. Even if only about ten percent of the people who watch the series buy the book, that's enough to get a book on a bestseller list.

I did read The Dead Zone, which is the only Stephen King book I've read (because I'm a weenie), because of the series. I started reading the Elizabeth George Inspector Lynley books because of the PBS Mystery series -- but then after reading the books, I no longer liked the TV series. There were enough changes to the characters and situation where I liked the book version better, and though I like the actor playing Lynley in other things and have even watched other things because he was in the cast, I didn't think he was right for that role. After I'd read some of the books, the TV series was too jarring and I quit watching it.

Enchanted, Inc. was initially optioned for a TV series, and I knew I was really going to have to let it go because I knew they were buying the concept and that it would not likely follow my plot. Then it turned out that right after the deal was negotiated, that executive left the company and the deal was dead, which left things open for Universal to come along. The deal with Universal does allow them to make a TV series after a movie, so who knows, maybe it'll be part of the Sci Fi Channel summer lineup someday.

1 comment:

Hope said...

I generally don't want books that I enjoy made into series. It is usually a bad idea, except, as you say, some mysteries. Mini-series, yes, long-running series, not so much. I do like watching Bones, but I have never been able to get into the books, and the TV show is really just based on one character.

You should give The Dark Tower series by Stephen King a try - it is far more epic sci-fi/fantasy than horror.