Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television. Asked & Answered has been on hiatus for a while, but we thought we’d bring it back for the warm summer Fridays.
While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to us, ask on Facebook, or email them to us.
This week’s question is: What book–fiction, non-fiction, comic, coloring book, crossword, etc.–would you like to see adapted into a television series, and who would you like to see manage that adaption?
Cameron: One of my favorite books growing up was Ellen Raskin’s delightful mystery story The Westing Game. It’s already been adapted into a film, but there are sixteen main characters, all of whom have their own reasons for attempting to win the $200 million inheritance at the heart of the plot. So I’ve always envisioned it more as a TV miniseries, covering the main plot points but also allowing for some character exploration (and using more fluid flashback scenes to help tell the story, as opposed to the clunky, roundabout way Raskin has to go about it in prose form). The ideal version of this adaptation would require two types of people. The first is a writer who understands better than anyone else the phrase “information is power,” and given that’s a direct quote from an early episode of Grey’s Anatomy, my first pick would naturally be Shonda Rhimes. The second is someone who could get into the specific nature of a crazy old rich white man who believes in the power of America as a land of immigrants so much that he devised a way to convince a multicultural cast of characters to come together and learn from each other. In that sense, it would have to be the tag-team of Bays/Thomas; after all, a crazy old rich white man dying and leaving behind an oddball will is pretty much the gimmick behind the short-living The Goodwin Games airing right now on FOX. Being the writer-creators of How I Met Your Mother, though, I think they would also cotton well to the execution of Raskin’s novel and find a way to turn it into compelling television.
The best adaptation would ideally involve both Rhimes and Bays/Thomas, but, well, it’s a good thing this is just a hypothetical, because I don’t think that combination is very realistic. Oh well. A boy can dream.
Andy: My first thought was to lament the attempted TV adaptations of the comic book series Locke & Key and The Sixth Gun, both of which are among the richest entertainment on the shelves right now and both of which could have worked fantastically on the small screen. But since those hopes have crashed before they ever got off the ground, I went a different way. Ancient mythologies are rife with stories that still hold power and entertainment value today, but one tale that jumped out at me a while ago was that of Greek hero Perseus. I’ve expanded on this idea elsewhere, but in brief, the common stories around Perseus have all the makings of a 13-episode season or miniseries: Noble hero, powerful villain, complicated romance, comic relief, and so forth. The obvious choice for a showrunner would be Steven DeKnight, whose recently concluded Spartacus proves he knows how to give modern relevance to an ancient world setting and themes. But others could do interesting things with that material as well, like Brian K. Vaughan with his panache at world-building, or Ben Edlund with his knack for playing in different modes of hero-trope storytelling.
Emma: I’ve been reading a lot of Sylvia Plath’s journals recently, it’s the first time I’ve dipped back into them since high school and I’d like to see Plath’s college years as a mini series. There has already been the Gwyneth Paltrow movie of Plath’s tumultuous relationship with Ted Hughes (this was not endorsed or supported by Plath’s family and so no original poetry featured) and the version that I would like to see would focus not on her suicide attempt nor eventual death but of Plath trying to figure out her position in the world as a woman and writer in 1950s America. That’s what I’ve noticed about these journal entries is that she often talks about her struggles because of her gender and finding a partner who can be her romantic and creative equal. Really there are a lot of bad dates that could provide plenty of material for this project. There is also a fear of atomic war and I’d like to see a show tackle the post-WWII/early Cold War feelings among regular citizens. I think one person who could be great at bringing this story to life is Sofia Coppola as she is good at showing disaffected and lost young women. While Coppola’s tendency to position herself as an observer rather than delving too deep is sometimes an issue, for a figure like Plath who has been analyzed in every possible way this could be an interesting new approach.
Andrew: Personally, I’d really like a television show based on Kaplan Bar Review: New York Subjects Outline Materials, probably run by David E. Kelly, but I assume interest in that would limit it to a Lone Star-esque run. Instead I’ll go with James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. The Cross books have been no stranger to adaptations, as three movies have been made, two with Morgan Freeman as the title character, and one with Tyler Perry. But none of the three have been successes, either critically or in the box office. Patterson has been no stranger to television either, with his Women’s Murder Club series being made into a 2003 Made-for-TV movie (starring Tracy Pollan!) and a 2007 series (starring Angie Harmon!). Plus adapting the Cross books would provide television with a rarity, at least on the network side- a mostly African American cast. Given her strength is cast diversity, and the excitement she has brought to Scandal (and at times Grey’s Anatomy), a Shonda Rhimes version of the Cross world could easily make a fun ABC show.
Julie: As soon as I saw this question, I knew my answer. My favorite books of all time (the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart-Lovelace) have never been made into a movie or a TV show. For the uninitiated (probably most of you), the Betsy-Tacy books follow a group of girls (Betsy, Tacy, and Tib–and friends!) from age five all the way into married life. The books take place in Minnesota around the turn of the 20th century, are full of great loves and friendships and families, and offer up surprisingly modern feminist points-of-view. I’m not sure why these books, which were written in the 1940s and ’50s, have never been given the movie/TV treatment. Maybe there are rights issues. Maybe the books aren’t popular enough (though their fans are super passionate). These books could be a Little House on the Prairie for the 21st century, but I see them more as an Anne of Green Gables-type PBS mini-series, which I would watch the hell out of.
Whitney: I have read way too many books for one to come to mind right away, but in the last few years I was a huge fan of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Although it is a young-adult book, the world building and vivid characters turned it into a four quadrant success in 2011 when it was released. Almost any network could transform the story into something that would work for their audiences. Whether keeping the violence it discusses part of the story explicitly to aim at a more mature audience, or looking at the relationships between the children on a more detailed level, an on-going series or summer event series could be very popular. Entertainment is experiencing a boon of child actors that have skills galore (not counting Leo from Smash or Henry from OUAT obviously) so the casting agency would have loads of fun slotting up-and-comers in for each kid. Kiernan Shipka as Emma anyone!? Plus it is partially a period piece, and who doesn’t like that? On top of all that, the first book ended on a cliffhanger and at that point the author said he did not want to write a sequel. This leaves more than one direction to follow for a series; someone takes the bones of the story and changes it into a TV series, taking the story where they want, or following the (newly announced sequel) to the letter and pleasing book fans everywhere. Take it away, ABC!
Les: One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years was Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, a novel that told the story of an English-language newspaper in Rome operating in the twilight of the print media world. It was a perfect story about the damaged and idiosyncratic people who make up a newsroom staff, which felt like twelve short stories woven together around the unnamed publication (“the daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species”) that held them all together. Given that journalism is almost absent from TV (don’t get me started on The Newsroom or the newspaper subplots from House of Cards) I’d love to see this book adapted by either HBO, AMC or Sundance as a twelve-part miniseries adapting each of the chapters. The show could benefit hugely from being shot in Rome–not the touristy parts–and for the stringers they could gain variety by filming the respective episodes in Paris and Cairo. They’d be roles actors would leap on playing–nitpicky copy chief Herman Cohen and personally frazzled business reporter Hardy Benjamin in particular–and I think it’d make a terrific project in the hands of a more auteur-centric cable channel with a stable of indie directors.
Additionally, I’m sure that everyone’s tired of talking about zombies in pop culture and zombies on television, but with the bland disappointment of the World War Z film I’ve been having a lot of discussions with people about how much better that story could have been told. The original Max Brooks novel is one of my favorite books of the last decade, a legitimately gripping story of the zombie apocalypse that cleverly used the oral history approach to find a new way of looking at the story. The film entirely botched that by turning it into Brad Pitt vs. Zombies, but I think that if they handed the material over to the creative teams of either Band of Brothers or Battlestar Galactica, it could be resurrected easily as an ongoing series. There’d be survival horror in the stories of the Japanese hacker or Louisiana survival pilot surviving against the odds, political thriller as the nations tried to conceal and then rebuild themselves, and then some straight-up action as the human armies fight back. It could be international, it could be nuanced, and it could easily surpass The Walking Dead in terms of quality.
Cory: Many of the things I would like to see done on television have already been done on film, to mixed results (I’m a proponent of Zack Synder’s Watchmen film but I also mostly understand why people hate it). I’m also partially through a few contemporary books that are difficult not to picture as long-form television (sup, The Passage? I promise I’ll finish you one day). Nevertheless, I’ll go with a book that impacted me quite a bit as a youngster and one that is surprising in its absence from either film or television adaptations (though not for a lack of trying): The Giver. Lois Lowry’s dystopian children’s novel is only 180 pages, but I always imagined that there were so many more stories to tell about a society defined by Sameness. Of course, the content of the story might not seem as deep as it did to 10-year old me, and there’s a great chance that someone like The CW would try to turn it into some kind of warped love parallelogram, but there’s something so appealing about viewing these complex (albeit relatively clear) moral choices through the eyes of a young child. At worst, I don’t know why The Giver couldn’t be a short-run summer series.