Saturday, September 19, 2009

Books Turned Television Series

Sookie Stackhouse, Temperance Brennan, Serena va der Woodsen, Aaron Corbet, Richard Cypher, Vicki Nelson, Elena Gilbert and Harry Dresden all have something in common. They were characters in books long before they came to life on television. You'll find that many of the characters we love on television and in the movies, we loved in books first. Seeking inspiration from the written word is hardly new.

Great writing involves powerful visuals and emotional investment. Books also have a built in audience that is likely to tune into the television show. That same audience has preconceived notions about their characters, their storylines and how things should go. Sometimes what translates from book to screen is not the same. In fact, most of the time the television series is going to be different. It can never be exactly faithful to the author’s storytelling even if it can capture their creative vision.


I’d never read a Kathy Reichs book before this series began. It was a total fluke that I started watching it. There’s a tongue in cheek storyline in the show about the books that Bones writes featuring a character named Kathy Reichs. Reichs, herself, has also appeared on the show. It’s a wonderfully fun and funny dramedy pairing Dr. Temperance Brennan with Seeley Booth as they solve some of the most puzzling crimes.

The books, however, are vastly different from the series. A friend of mine who adores the books doesn’t like the series because it’s so counter to the images of the characters she’s conceived, not to mention the Tempe in the books is an older woman with a child and not a socially dysfunctional genius. Both definitely have their merits, but since I saw the series first, it’s the TV series I lean towards.

The Fallen

Aaron Corbet is a teenager struggling with all the things that a teenager struggles with. Only Aaron has bigger problems. Long before Dean and Sam got caught up between the war in Heaven, Aaron found himself in the middle of it. An angelic child, he’s hunted on all sides and loses his foster family. The series is really incredible. The books were made into a limited series on ABC Family. I enjoyed that outing and would love to have seen it go further, but the story was just as compelling on scre3en as it had been in the book. (Learn more about The Fallen author in our interview with Thomas E. Sniegoski).

The Legend of the Seeker

I am absolutely nuts about this series from the folks that brought you Xena and Hercules. Richard, Kahlan and Zed are gorgeous characters. The series is only loosely based on The Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind. Fans of the book series can and do have a lot of trouble with the television series. However, I can accept that these are just two very different interpretations of the same tale. It really helps that Richard and Kahlan have such gorgeous chemistry that makes them a delight to watch.

Gossip Girl

No, I have not read these books either, but the rather wild and trashy series on the CW is like a train wreck you can’t turn away from. Like Dynasty and Dallas of the early 80s, Gossip Girl is very much the extreme of society, the rich and the powerful doing only what the rich and the powerful do and being unhappy about it despite their millions, great hair, great clothes and more. I also like actress Blake Lively who plays Serena van der Woodsen.

Blood Ties

Oh, how I wished this television series had gone on. I found it to be a really beautiful symmetry between the books by Tanya Huff and the television show. The characters were damn near perfect. Christina Cox’s Vicki was not drop dead gorgeous, but she was very beautiful and very much a real woman. She was determined, but she struggled with her feelings for two very different men. Kyle Schmid as Henry Fitzroy was exquisitely sensuous and dangerous while Dylan Neal as Mike Celluci was trapped between his inherent skepticism and his need to support Vicki. The storylines were close enough to the books to pay them true homage. Sadly, the series only went one full season and a handful of second season episodes, but definitely worth watching in my humble opinion.

The Dresden Files

This show had so much potential. I really cursed at Sci Fi when they canceled it. The series was based on Jim Butcher’s enormously popular Harry Dresden novels. It stared Paul Blackthorne as Harry who would not have been my first pick, but he definitely worked for me after I got to see him in action. Murphy wasn’t blonde, but the actress really nailed her attitude. Morgan wasn’t old, but damn if he wasn’t hot. Sure there were lots of differences --- hell, Bob was a ghost that moved around (and I adored what they did with Bob), but it was a wonderful series all the same. I was so eager to see their versions of John Marcone, Michael, Mouse and so many other characters. But alas, the series was ended after just 12 episodes.

At least we still have the books!

The Vampire Diaries

This series just started and I’ll reserve opinion for a few more episodes. It’s been years since I read the books (I actually read them years ago when they first came out), but I remembered loving them. After I heard about the series, I ransacked the bookshelves and there they were. There are a lot of differences on the surface between the book and the series, but I have hope that the darker themes will be explored.

True Blood

The HBO series is based on Charlaine Harris’ novels. Now, I love these books. I am crazy about the southern gothic atmosphere and the entire realm of the supernatural that has been formed. So I was a little leery of the series. I liked the first season, but I got really tired of Jason having sex every five minutes (no matter how true to character that was). Second season has been remarkably better. I think in large part due to the fact that the characters outside of Sookie have enjoyed greater development beyond the Sookie centric books. So I am rather enjoying both now.

With so many books and series to choose from, it’s hardly surprising that some are better than others. Do I want to see some of my other favorite book series as television shows? Sure I do. But I want to see it done right. I want to enjoy the nuances that television can explore. I want to see the stories and the characters enhanced.

What is your favorite book turned television series?


  1. Hi :)
    Thanks for another terrific post Heather.
    For book to series I really liked Blood Ties but putting it on Lifetime instead of Showtime or HBO was a death-knell from the start.
    All the best,

  2. You know that's a good idea RK. I have to wonder, how much influence does the network the show airs on have an effect. The Dreden Files were on Sci Fi, arguably a great location, but they didn't support the show. Blood Ties was brilliant, but was Lifetime the right home for it? Bones is doing fantastic at Fox and that is inspite of the fact that the first two years the network bounced that show everywhere and it was hard to keep track of. It wasn't until it broke out on its own that they started to support it.

    I heard HBO is getting A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. I am both excited and worried. I think that HBO shows are a little too gratuitous with the sex, but we'll see.

  3. Loved True Blood, isn't accurate to the Sookie Stakhouse series but it's good and interesting.
    Vampire Diaries it's gonna to be in WB or other channel I don't have CW here at home. (*snif*)
    Blood ties I didn't read the books but I watch the series and I like it, planning to read them.
    The legend of the keeper it's based on The Sword of Truth books, I coudn't find it in my country yet...
    I'm also waiting for Anita Blake to became a movie or series. Just can't wait to see all of her lovers *-*.

    Ant Thanks for the tip, love