Hollywood has been adapting literature for the screen for over one hundred years, and has produced many renowned films, such as “Gone with the Wind”, “The Godfather” and “The Shawshank Redemption”. More recently, however, television has become an increasingly popular adaptation medium. Arguably television is more suited for book-to-screen adaptations. Television’s vastly longer runtime capacity allows for much more detail to be explored, allowing the essence of the book to be portrayed more faithfully.
The last two years alone have seen the production of standout shows based on books, such as HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Although obviously based on real events “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” was based on the 1997 book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson”, and the much-anticipated second season of this anthology series is also been based on a book recounting real events. Many of today’s critically acclaimed television shows are book-to-screen adaptations.
Streaming services are also finding inspiration from books. “Orange Is The New Black” and “House of Cards”, two of Netflix’s flagship original shows, are based on books. As are Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” and “American Gods”. Just last month it was announced that Amazon would be producing a “The Lord of the Rings” prequel series. Best-selling literature adaptations are a safe bet for production companies.
The issue with an over-reliance on books is that the showrunners will inevitably run out of pages to adapt, but networks will want to squeeze the cash cow further. “Game of Thrones” dropped in quality the moment it forged ahead of George RR Martin’s books. If an author starts a story, perhaps they are the only person capable of finishing it. Shows could easily overstay their welcome too, evident in “The Walking Dead” which is based on a comic book series of the same name. AMC had enough faith in the show to commission a prequel spin-off series, but “Fear the Walking Dead” failed to even scratch the popularity of its parent show. TV networks must learn when to end a show on a high.
However, television spin-offs don’t have to be bad. Although lacking some of the original spectacle of “Breaking Bad”, “Better Call Saul” is very enjoyable and successfully recreates the flavours that made its parent show so popular. HBO currently has five “Game of Thrones” spin-off series in the works, hoping at least one will be able to fill the void once the prominent fantasy-drama has ended.
The reliance on books and previously successful entertainment calls into question the originality Hollywood is capable of. It could be interpreted as laziness or lack of talent to have to rely on the success of work that has already come. Some viewers may also want to see the next big thing, rather than rehashes of what they’ve already seen. Film franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth have been criticised for expanding their film slates simply to make more money. Should we not then also hold television writers to the same account?