12 Novels to Read Before They Head to TV
"Get me another Handmaid's Tale!"
In the wake of Hulu’s success bringing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic to the small screen, Hollywood is jumping on the adaptation bandwagon. Here are the 12 to watch.
Nathan Hill, The Nix(Network/Airdate TBD)
Hill wasn’t just excited to learn that Hollywood heavyweights J.J. Abrams (Lost) and Meryl Streep wanted to adapt his debut novel—about the relationship between a videogame-obsessed professor and his mother—he was relieved. “I worked on this thing for 10 years,” he says. “When I found out Meryl and J.J. wanted it, I knew they would do such a great job.” To Hill, the book’s complexity makes it better suited to TV than film: “I think we could do The Nix in two hours, but you’d have to cut it so much that the story would effectively no longer be The Nix, really.” A limited series will allow the creative team to lean in to what makes the book so special. “The chapters are rendered in different emotional registers,” Hill explains. “There’s comedy and absurdity and melancholy and nostalgia.... All three of us, J.J. and [showrunner] John Logan and myself, agreed that an adaptation needed to be similarly daring and adventurous. We wanted to take the same risks the book takes.” Hill may take a risk of his own: “I might try writing one episode.”
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend(HBO; Airdate TBD)
The first of pseudonymous author Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels is in development as a limited series from HBO and Italy’s RAI, directed by Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts), with Jennifer Schuur (Big Love) as EP. Thus far, the book’s authenticity is intact: Casting started with Naples locals.
Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace(Netflix; Fall 2017)
Can Atwood strike gold twice? Netflix hopes so! Writer/EP Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell) has adapted Atwood’s novel, about a 19th-century servant accused of murdering her employers, into a limited series. It’s a long time coming for Polley, who initially tried to nab the rights when she was 19. “It was the first thing I ever wanted to make,” she says. Mary Harron (American Psycho) will direct, and most of the creative team is female. “There’s a certain sensibility and relationship to female characters that’s probably easier to access for a female filmmaker,” says Polley.
Sarai Walker, Dietland(AMC; Airdate TBD)
When the entertainment industry caught wind of Walker’s 2015 novel, their response surprised her. “People in Hollywood took Dietland seriously—much more than people in the literary world did,” she says. Ultimately the novel—which follows a 300-pound woman named Plum who gets involved with a guerrilla feminist group—landed with UnREAL EP Marti Noxon and is in development at AMC. “It’s such a radical story; there’s really never been one like this on television,” Walker says. For Noxon, current events have made it more prescient: “The idea of this long-overdue revolution brewing has started to feel more and more relevant.”
Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist(PBS; Airdate TBD)
”Often, period dramas get bleached out and prettified too much,” says Burton, author of the 17th-century Holland-set novel The Miniaturist, which she calls “subversive and dark.” Fortunately EP Kate Sinclair and writer John Brownlow got the moodiness. “They understood that these people were living in a pressure cooker,” Burton says. “It has a lot of parallels to the present day.” The cast, too, are veterans of murky, historical dramas: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays 18-year-old Nella, with Romola Garai (Atonement) as her sister-in-law. The miniseries, which PBS co-produced with BBC, wrapped in May, but no airdate has been announced.
Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects(HBO; 2018)
Showrunner Marti Noxon had to convince production company eOne that Sharp Objects needed to be on TV, not film: “I made a very forceful case for why films with protagonists that are this dark and complex aren’t a proven entity—but gritty, conflicted, messed-up women on TV is almost a genre now,” she says. Flynn (Gone Girl) and Noxon co-wrote the limited series, with Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies) directing, and Amy Adams, Chris Messina, and Patricia Clarkson starring. Noxon is quick to admit that if the first season succeeds, she and Flynn are already prepared for two more. “We have an idea that could stand alone, not necessarily with [Adams’ character],” she says. “It’s like a free Gillian Flynn book! You’d get the sequel to Sharp Objects just for doing a second season.”
Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling(HBO; Airdate TBD)
BBC One is adapting J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels (which she publishes under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith), with each book getting its own miniseries under the Strike Series umbrella. First up is The Cuckoo’s Calling, in three one-hour episodes, followed by The Silkworm and Career of Evil, with two onehour episodes each. Rowling, an EP on the series, has high hopes that fans will enjoy the adaptation, which will air in the U.S. on HBO. “I think/hope you’ll love it,” she tweeted on May 28. “I’ve seen all but one episode, and I’m delighted!”
Hannah Tinti, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley(Network/Airdate TBD)
It was easy for Tinti to imagine her novel on TV: “[It’s] very episodic. Each chapter has its own story line of how this one guy was shot and survived.” Bringing it to life are playwright Jez Butterworth and producers Matt Reeves (Felicity) and Michael Costigan (Brokeback Mountain).
Zadie Smith, Swing Time(Network/Airdate TBD)
Steve Coogan’s production company has nabbed Zadie Smith’s latest, which she’ll adapt alongside husband Nick Laird.
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad(Amazon; Airdate TBD)
What’s next for The Underground Railroad after a Pulitzer and a National Book Award? Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins is directing it for Amazon with Brad Pitt’s Plan B (12 Years a Slave).
Caroline Kepnes, You(Lifetime; Airdate TBD)
Kepnes’ thriller about a bookstore clerk-turned-stalker is in the hands of überproducer Greg Berlanti (Arrow, Riverdale). “It’s like Sex and the City,” Kepnes jokes, “but his way of looking for love is very different from [Carrie’s].” Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley stars as the lovelorn Joe.
Maria Semple, Today Will Be Different(HBO; Airdate TBD)
When Semple, a former Arrested Development writer, decided to adapt her second novel herself, she chose the medium she knows best: “Movies belong to the director. TV belongs to the writer. It seemed like the natural choice.” (Richard Linklater is adapting her first book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, into a film.) The series will followEleanor Flood (producer and star Julia Roberts) through a single disastrous day. “I’ve got a scarily talented writing staff,” Semple says. “It’s been pure, drunken pleasure to be back in the room with other comedy writers after eight dry years.”