An author writes a book, the public likes the book and a film maker uses that book to create a movie. This has especially been the trend in recent years, and with box office smashes like The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises, it’s no surprise. What happens, however, when that cycle is taken to the small screen?
Television show creators have been using books as an inspiration for years. Many of these shows have become quite popular since their first air dates. Some of the most popular are the adaptations of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire, both of which have received high rankings on Metacritic.com. Despite those examples, not all book to TV adaptations are successful. For example, the CBS show “Intelligence,” which was based on John Dixon’s action-thriller “Phoenix Island,” aired in 2014 and was canceled after just one season. Despite this, creators still hit the books to find their next idea. In the last three years alone, a great number of popular books have been converted to the screen, among these are Piper Kerman’s “Orange Is the New Black,” Diana Galbaldon’s “Outlander” series and Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series.
So the question remains, which one do people prefer? Do they reach for a novel or a TV remote? As it turns out, many people prefer reading a story as opposed to seeing it on screen. Why is that? According to sophomore social work major Ben Yasinow, it’s all in the details. “I feel that a book that’s made into a show is usually poor in detail,” he said. “The book usually has a more complex plot line.”
It’s true that some shows lack the level of detail that literature lovers crave, but an even worse crime that TV show creators often commit is changing details all together. Take L.J. Smith’s series “The Vampire Diaries.” When The CW aired the show in 2009, there were a few glaring differences between what fans were seeing and what they had read in the books. There were numerous actors who didn’t match the physical descriptions of their literary counterparts. For example, Elena Gilbert was described as blonde with blue eyes, but the actress who played her had brown hair and dark eyes. There were even some characters that were left out of the show completely. That’s one of the major drawbacks of these kinds of shows. The audience has already had the chance to read about and imagine the characters, and it’s quite difficult for creators to choose actors that live up to the public’s imagination.
To say that creators never get it right, however, wouldn’t be true. Sometimes, the proverbial stars align and the transition to the screen is seamless. Lifetime’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” demonstrated this quite well. This four part mini-series provided audiences with both stunning Russian settings and excellent character portrayals, all while keeping fairly close to the events of the original novel. It was an event that would surely please fans of Tolstoy’s work.
All in all, it would seem that in the battle between books and TV shows, the edge goes to books.