Literary hits make jump to prime time

Prime-time television will hit the books this fall and winter with several series drawn directly from the pages of successful novels.

TORONTO — Prime-time television will hit the books this fall and winter with several series drawn directly from the pages of successful novels.

The upcoming lineup includes the hotly anticipated sci-fi serial Flashforward, adapted from the Canadian bestseller of the same name; the Vampire Diaries, based on the popular youth series; Eastwick, based on John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick; and Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, based on the Giller Prize-winning collection of short stories.

“Almost never does this happen, that an author’s book is adapted to a movie or a television show,” said Flashforward author Robert J. Sawyer, calling it a “statistical aberration” that so many book-related series are on order.

Theatre and film are more often the route taken for books that make the leap to another medium, but TV offers a significantly wider breadth for multi-character tales such as Flashforward, noted Sawyer.

The 49-year-old writer said he initially scored a feature-film deal for his sci-fi tale but held out for a TV to give his book’s themes more room to bloom.

The small screen similarly offers the greatest potential for Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, said screenwriter and playwright Jason Sherman, who adapted the collection of stories for an eight-episode miniseries bound for The Movie Network and Movie Central early next year.

Sherman wonders if the influx of literary inspiration is in any way driven by cable’s success with more sophisticated, layered TV dramas.

In other cases, it appears that sheer sex appeal and recent fads are a big reason behind bringing commercially successful books to life.

ABC/CTV’s Eastwick,” featuring Canadian actor Paul Gross, heads to the small screen nearly 20 years after Updike’s The Witches of Eastwickwas turned into Hollywood film starring Cher and Jack Nicholson.

Meanwhile, The Vampire Diaries,starring Toronto’s Nina Dobrev, is based on the popular series of young-adult novels by L.J. Smith, and comes on the heels of Twilight.

It debuts Sept. 10.

Gross, who plays a mysterious and possibly malevolent tycoon who appears to manipulate a trio of beautiful women, said the “the longer range objectives” of the TV version has created a whole new look at the tale.

“The film is quite a bit different from the book and this is quite a bit different from the film,” Gross said of the series, debuting Sept. 23, and also starring Rebecca Romijn.

It doesn’t hurt that all these books have a proven track record on bestsellers lists. Turning to books allows TV execs to mine an established audience, albeit small by the standards of network television, said Sawyer.

“There used to be two or three or four major channels and now there are hundreds,” he noted.

“So obviously everybody is scrambling for material and any material that has an established audience, as (the book) ’Flashforward’ did before this (TV series) came across … is going to be a safer bet than something that has no established audience at all.”

TV has had great success with mining novels in the past.

Some of the biggest TV hits of the ’80s include “The Six Million Dollar Man,” based on the book “Cyborg” by Martin Caidin; “The Love Boat,” based on the non-fiction book, “The Love Boats” by Jeraldine Saunders; and “Hotel,” based on Canadian Arthur Haley’s book of the same name.

Sawyer credits recent big screen successes of literary series like “The Lord and the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and “James Bond” with reminding Hollywood about the book world’s rich body of work.

“Everything is cross-platform now,” he said. “That’s part of the reality that we live in — a multifaceted, multimedia world and I’m delighted to be a part of that.”

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