Is TV a better medium for book adaptations than movies are?

Is TV a better medium for book adaptations than movies are?

I recently wrote about Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds program which creates an official bridge between rightsholders and fans who write fiction about movies, TV shows, books, videogames, and so on.

I think it is a fascinating experiment, and I expect many rightsholders to participate. I’d love it if some older properties were included, and I think that will be possible.

I did notice something about the first three “Worlds”:

Did you spot it? Sure, they have a lot in common…but these are all TV series based on books.

They also have fervent fan followings, and have been successful (it’s reasonable to call a TV series with at least three seasons a success).

That got me thinking…

Is TV a better medium for book adaptations than movies?

I can see why that would be. If you don’t pre-plan multiple movies, you only get about two hours for a movie (with rare exceptions). Most books, especially book series, are much more complex than that. You can get away with exposition in a book (“…the three years Pat spent on the farm were difficult: it was great to go home again”), but that’s much tougher to do in a movie. It just takes longer to do some things visually and without shortcuts. That means movies often have to chop out parts of the plot.

A TV series, whether open-ended or a “miniseries” (sometimes called “limited”), simply has a more leisurely time. We can explore more characters. We can do things out of order more easily: you can do flashbacks in a movie, but you only have so long to drive the narrative. Doing them in a TV series is less disruptive: some shows do entire episodes or even story arcs that are flashbacks.

One thing that complicates this question is that some TV shows were first adapted as movies, then made the leap to the small screen. M*A*S*H, which ran for eleven seasons, comes to mind. Certainly, the movie was a critical and box office success…is the series based more on the movie or on the book? I will say, though, that I’m sure most people now think of the series first…some might not even know there was a movie.

How would a movie have handled Game of Thrones, or True Blood? (I’m going with the TV series titles here). Hard to imagine…

Yet, I’m guessing that the prestige (and probably the money) still pushes authors towards wanting to do movies. The Hunger Games Trilogy went the cinema route…so did Harry Potter, and they were both blockbusters.

I’m not sure, though…if I’d written a fictional book series, I might be more interested in television. I suppose one of the concerns would be the greater likelihood that a TV series will (eventually) go off on its own territory…but certainly, movies do that, and many authors have limited control. I think it might be fun to see how your characters work under other writers’ imagination, although I’d have to think about that.

I think I’d like the fandom that a TV series can have, though. It seems more…interactive, collaborative somehow. TV series fans can impact the progress over years: movies can have diehard fans, but there seems to be a greater distance with a work that might take three years and a $100 million to produce.

Here are just some TV series based (directly or indirectly) on books:

  • Bones
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • Dexter
  • The Dresden Files
  • Elementary
  • Father Dowling Mysteries
  • The Flying Nun (really)
  • Hemlock Grove
  • Honey West
  • Jekyll (I enjoyed this British series)
  • Lassie
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Mike Hammer
  • My Friend Flicka
  • Nero Wolfe
  • The Paper Chase
  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies
  • The Saint
  • The Six Million Dollar Man
  • Spenser for Hire
  • Sweet Valley High
  • Tarzan
  • The Waltons

So, I’m just speculating here…I’m not arguing in favor of TV being better for books than movies are, but I’m curious as to what you think. What are you favorite TV shows based on books? Do you think they would have been better or worse as movies? Same thing…have you ever seen a movie, and thought it would have been better as a TV show? Feel free to let me know (and to perhaps start a “commentsation” with my readers) by commenting on this post.

Bonus deal: one of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. This was an extraordinarily impactful 1970 nonfiction book, which really started a social movement. Right now, in the USA Kindle store, it is $2.99 (with a digital list price of $14.99). As always, check the price before you click that Buy button…it may not be this price where you are.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

3 Responses to “Is TV a better medium for book adaptations than movies are?”

  1. Western Reader Says:

    Been pondering your comments, and this occurred to me: While Harry Potter series almost demanded to be in film format (due to number of books and depth of stories), many others benefit from TV series … the stories can be augmented with additional stories (if the series is a hit a la NCIS), and eventually (a la Star Trek), films could be a logical progression. Of course, I could be all wet…..

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Western!

      I think Harry Potter could have worked as a TV series…that’s one of the ones that occurred to me. Of course, they are of very big scope, visually, but I think people are getting more used to the idea of that (they watch visual spectaculars on three-inch screens). TVs are also becoming more immersive in more ways.

      I’m just not sure…it might have taken ten seasons to tell the tale, and people might not have been that patient.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      I was disappointed in the Harry Potter movies because they left out so many details from the books. I would love to see it developed as an animated series.

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