In the recent Geekend preview of 2011's new nerd-worthy TV shows, I wondered aloud why Bill Willingham's excellent Fables comics series hadn't been adapted for television in lieu of the strangely similar new Once Upon A Time concept from ABC. This got me thinking about which genre book series — either comics or prose — are most ripe for conversion to an ongoing small screen franchise.
Take note: I'm nominating book series that would convert well to ongoing, open-ended television series. That does not mean the 10-episodes-per-book HBO adaptation a la Game of Thrones — our friends at SF Signal have already done that list quite well — but conversion into more conventional series like FlashForward, True Blood, and the The Walking Dead.
So here we go:Ex Machina by Bryan K. Vaughan and Tony Harris
This comic series follows the adventures of Mitchell Hundred, a former superhero who hung up his tights after 9/11 and decided to make a "real difference" as the mayor of New York City. The source material is surprisingly grounded, complex, and mature. Hundred confronts political corruption and voter cynicism as often as supervillains, and the lines between good and evil are always blurry.
If properly adapted, Ex Machina could be every bit the allegorical meditation on modern society that the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was, combining the best elements of The West Wing and Heroes. Moreover, the series has 60 issues to mine episodes from, and it still left a great deal unsaid and unresolved. That's a giant playground for TV writers to explore for as many seasons as they can muster. Ex Machina is a TV home run waiting to happen.The Laundry by Charles Stross
Stross's novels of a British supernatural intelligence agency are a conscious crossover of James Bond spy-fi and H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, with a hard sci-fi twist. Or, in TV parlance, think Dr. Who meets The Office by way of Numb3rs. Basically, performing certain higher math functions "echoes" into dimensions we can't see, making software engineers and mathematicians unwitting demonologists. And like any hacker who proves too adept, prodigies are co-opted into government service — with all that it implies.
Protagonist Bob Howard is an affable everyman hacker who fears bureaucratic red tape far more than nameless horrors from the great beyond, and he has the requisite superhot girlfriend-slash-partner, Mo, who plays a chillingly hilarious demon-killing violin. Any show where an iPhone can be tweaked into a ghostbusting device has to perk up Hollywood's ears, though the copious use of complex math and blood sacrifice may turn off a lot of people, too. It's a bit quirky from a TV exec's perspective, and runs the risk of being mainstreamed beyond recognition, but the premise is so tantalizing it can't be ignored.Coyote by Allen Steele Perhaps the most intelligent and longrunning hard sci-fi planetary colonization book series on the market today, the Coyote novels are ripe for a longform TV adaptation. It's Lost meets Star Trek — tell me that doesn't get a TV exec's attention. Besides the general sensawunda of planetary colonization, the Coyote series has a lot to recommend it to television.
Most of the action takes place after the colonists have arrived on the habitable moon Coyote in the 47 Ursae Majoris system, so your need for large set pieces and effects are minimal. It's also a largely open-ended human drama with a twist: The protagonists stole the world's first colony ship, the URSS Alabama, to flee from a right wing fascist regime. In the centuries of sleep it took them to reach Coyote, faster starships were built, and soon after landing our heroes were met by colonists from a more advanced left-wing fascist regime, with whom they must battle for control of Coyote.
Oh, and did we mention the main character of the ensemble is teenage explorer and rebel fighter Carlos Montero? Family drama, combat, politics, betrayal, and just enough sci-fi to make serious statements about modern life "safe" — you have to think this would be a no-brainer for highbrow TV.1632 by Eric Flint
The perfect setting to examine first world versus third world conflict, the premise of 1632 is endlessly intriguing: Grantville, a small West Virginia mining town from the year 2000, is inexplicably transported to 1632 Germany — in the middle of the Thirty Years War. Modern American technology and, perhaps more importantly, modern political ideals of equality and self-determination make Grantville a dangerous and powerful force in 17th century Europe. It's Jericho meets The Tudors, but with plenty of allegory to US conflicts in the Middle East today.
A wide ensemble cast from the novel may need to be trimmed to a mere nine or ten, but there's plenty of space for spectacular recurring characters including Galileo, Cardinal Richelieu, and Oliver Cromwell. The Grantville sets would be cheap, though some of the vintage European landmarks of later novels might get expensive. Nonetheless, in the right hands this show could have both action and substance, which is very rare indeed these days.
No doubt your own bookshelf is ripe with novels waiting for decent small screen adaptions. Well, don't just stand there, make your nominations in the comment section!
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.