Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is breaking ratings records on AMC, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal has an appointment on NBC and Stephen King’s Under the Dome will land on CBS this summer. What other books and comic titles might work as hit TV shows? Here’s my list:
#7 Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Pitch: A semi-realistic police procedural set in Batman’s hometown.
Upside: It’s the most reliable of TV formats — the big city crime drama — paired with one of the most popular franchises in entertainment history.
Downside: Batman rights owner Warner Bros. prefers to make Batman films. Even though Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan has finished his trilogy, The CW’s entertainment president told me earlier this month that the studio won’t yet permit a TV spinoff. Also, remember Nikki and Paulo on Lost? Viewers like to focus on a story’s most interesting characters, not the background players, so that could be a creative challenge. Still, this CSI: Gotham is worth a shot.
Perfect Home: The CW or Syfy
#6 Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Pitch: High society sexual debauchery and scheming in lavish 18th century France.
Upside: Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been successfully adapted into a play and a film. Why not a TV series? It’s Downton Abbey meets 50 Shades of Grey! Bonus: The rights are seemingly in the public domain.
Downside: Tough to think of a downside as long as the network can show R-rated content. The story needs expanding beyond the novel’s tale, but TV writers do that sort of thing every day.
Perfect Home: Showtime
#5 American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Stephen King
Pitch: Comic series about a notorious outlaw in the Old West who is transformed into the first of a new kind of faster/stronger sunlight-proof vampire who eventually teams with a Hollywood silent movie actress (in this tale, studio moguls are vampires who feed on struggling actresses — nice).
Upside: With an awesome title like American Vampire, I’m amazed this isn’t on my DVR already. Ridiculously easy for a network to market. HBO’s True Blood and The CW’s The Vampire Diaries are modern-day hit vampire shows. A historical tale could be the next step.
Downside: The decades-spanning tale could be too ambitious (read: expensive and complicated) for a TV show.
Perfect Home: AMC
#4 John Sandford’s Prey novels
Pitch: Former journalist John Sandford’s bestselling Minnesota-based crime novels follow Det. Lucas Davenport as he solves serial murder cases.
Upside: Davenport is flawed hero who breaks the law to get bad guys and isn’t above beating up (or sleeping with) suspects. And, hello, it’s Minnesota — a cinematic and curiously untapped setting for a weekly crime drama (ABC’s short-lived mystery drama Happy Town not withstanding). FX is already thinking along these lines, developing a TV version of the film Fargo, but the Prey novels provide a creatively richer spring to draw from.
Downside: Networks keep making weak TV movies out of Sandford’s books when the franchise is better suited for a character-driven drama. There was 1999’s Mind Prey (starring a perfectly miscast Eriq LaSalle) and the 2011 USA movie Certain Prey (starring a slightly miscast Mark Harmon).
Perfect Home: USA
#3 The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Pitch: A fantasy series about devious feuding royal siblings vying to rule a land and all its infinite parallel worlds — including our own. The characters hop between realms as they plot to replace their mysteriously absent father. Oh, and one land has giant evil cats.
Upside: Sitting with author George R.R. Martin in his favorite New Mexico taqueria two years ago, we diverged from talking about his mega-hit series Game of Thrones. “I’d love to see somebody do Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber,” Martin said of the first novel in the Amber series. “What a fantastic HBO series that would be.” So to TV executives who say, “We want something like Game of Thrones!” … here you go.
Downside: Not cheap to produce or easy to write. In 2002, Amber was in development at Syfy, which couldn’t apparently make it work. But maybe now that green-screen technology has advanced…?
Perfect Home: Syfy or Starz
#2 Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Pitch: The ultra-violent Japanese cult hit has basically the same setup as The Hunger Games, only with lots of guns and without the ’70s glam makeovers.
Upside: Nowadays, it’s tough for a TV show to feel dangerous. The first season of CBS’ Survivor pulled it off. Starz Spartacus, which stretched the boundaries of gore and sex for a cable drama, did it too. And so did AMC’s The Walking Dead — remember that first scene with Rick Grimes shooting a child zombie in her bunny slippers? If executed correctly, Battle Royale would be a must-watch, high-buzz show. With The Hunger Games blowing up the box office with the teen-friendly two-hour version of this concept, there’s room for an R-rated, uncompromising multi-season version. It’s like a reality show where being voted off the island means a character dies; a structure that can be re-set each year. Writers could drizzle in serialized nuggets (such as who is running the games and how to stop them) while previous “winners” could return to the competition (which happened in the book too).
Downside: Do you need to ask? Teen gun-play on TV is radioactive in the wake of Sandy Hook. One could argue that such sensitivities are exactly why this subject is worth candidly exploring in a commercial art medium like television, but that’s one of those intellectual-sounding points that tend to get shouted down during a media frenzy. Still, if I’m making an honest list of a books that could make great TV shows, Battle Royale should be on it. One option: Having “contestants” of all ages and from all walks of life instead of just a high school class arguably has more dramatic potential and will draw a wider audience while making the story less about kids killing kids.
Perfect Home: Starz (The CW recently looked into the rights, but, yeah, not happening). And finally…
#1 The Stand by Stephen King
Pitch: Only the greatest post-apocalyptic novel ever written, and one of the most popular. When a super-flu virus kills more than 99 percent of the world’s population an eclectic group of survivors struggle to control the fate of humanity.
Upside: The Stand has all the components for a great pay cable series. There’s compelling end-of-the-world hook, a lengthy narrative, a diverse ensemble cast and beloved source material. Like AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead, the original story would need to be expanded, but there’s enough components in King’s “dark chest of wonders” to support five cable-length seasons (the spread of the flu and survivors coming together in Nebraska and Las Vegas could span the whole first season).
Downside: The Stand was already adapted once (successfully) as a miniseries in 1994. It’s currently in development at Warner Bros. as a feature film (films?). Even King has expressed doubts that this sprawling story will work as a single movie. Here’s a prediction: If CBS’ adaptation of King’s Under the Dome is a hit this summer, The Stand will get a green light — either as a film or TV show.
Perfect Home: HBO. You don’t need HBO-level sex and language to pull off The Stand, but you do need plenty of money (and HBO has more of it than anybody else). Another network I could imagine wanting this project (though fans probably wouldn’t call it the “perfect” home): Fox.