The trend for creating TV shows based on popular novels, podcasts and news articles shows no sign of slowing down, experts explain, as producers mine tried-and-tested stories with a proven track record in a bid to lure viewers.
In the last week alone, The Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix) and The Time Traveler’s Wife (HBO, Sky Atlantic) have premiered, each based on a bestselling book that’s already been made into a movie, with the latter also spawning a stage musical.
Some shows, like The Ipcress File, have already been adapted a number of times across multiple formats – but that doesn’t stop producers from revisiting the same stories yet again in the hope of landing on a hit.
New HBO miniseries The Staircase is based on a 2004 docuseries about the mysterious death of a crime writer’s wife. The same case has also spawned at least four books (two by the man at the centre of the case); a string of podcasts (including a BBC deep-dive); and a Lifetime movie.
Same, same… but different: New HBO miniseries The Staircase (starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette, pictured) is based on a 2004 docuseries about the mysterious death of a crime writer’s wife. The same case has also spawned at least four books (two by the man at the centre of the case); a string of podcasts (including a BBC deep-dive); and a Lifetime movie
Lost the magic? A new adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife stars Theo James and Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie (pictured). The TV show is based on a bestselling novel that has already been adapted into a film starring Rachel McAdams and a musical written by Joss Stone
Now Colin Firth and Toni Collette bring their star power to an eight-part series, which premieres in the UK on Thursday on Sky Atlantic.
The appeal of these rehashed adaptations lies is in the pre-existing audiences they promise to pull in, experts explain. The promise of a guaranteed viewership is more important than ever in the age of ‘peak TV’, when viewers are spoilt for choice and broadcasters and streaming giants are competing for eyeballs.
‘There is so much content out there for viewers now that basing a series off a piece of fiction that already has an established audience can be a quickfix guarantee of knowing that an idea works and has appeal,’ explained Jackson Gregoryof BlackBox Multimedia.
‘Producers are now scrambling to pick up the rights to the next bestseller, not only for the power of the storytelling but for the guarantee of an audience who will create buzz around its release.’
Funding is more likely to be given to a tried-and-tested product, making adaptations a popular choice for producers who want to get a project over the line.
‘There is a built in fan base and a proven track record, so it’s an easier investment as there is less perceived risk,’ said Shayna Waldman, development and production executive at The ATS Team.
He’s back! Manuel Garcia-Rulfo stars in a new Netflix version of The Lincoln Lawyer, based on a novel by American author Michael Connelly and previously made into a 2011 film
This same thought process is what has led to the boom in the prequels, sequels and reboots that dominate cinema schedules, although the issue is not as pronounced in the television market.
Will Hanrahan, creative director at FirstLookTV, explained: ‘TV is a smaller risk than a movie and often does not have the problem of funding a project.
‘Movies need that audience recognition to attract funding and then sell tickets. TV benefits, too, but can often have a funding model which gives comfort to Production companies.’
Yet adaptations are not always the straightforward money-spinners they might first appear.
The filmmaker behind The Staircase docuseries has publicly blasted the HBO dramatisation, which touches on the making of the documentary and alleges that one of the editors was influenced in her role because of her relationship with the man at the centre of the case.
Such criticism can call a project’s credibility into question.
Other adaptations, like new BBC 12-part series Conversations With Friends, based on the novel by Normal People author Sally Rooney, fail to live up to the hype of the original material.
However there have also been major successes.
‘The Queen’s Gambit stands out as a real success story,’ noted Gregory. ‘Who would have thought that a story about a chess prodigy could become one of the best mainstream television series of recent years?’
But the adaptation bubble won’t last forever, predicts Waldman: ‘The industry evolves and also cycles. As we evolve, we cycle.
‘We’ll come back around to a point where the trend steers away from proven intellectual property [IP} and towards risk, new untold stories, without existing IP.
‘Best we can do is ride the wave, evolve with the industry, adapt and take advantage of the trends and the new opportunities that it brings.’
Look familiar? From The Staircase to The Time Traveler’s Wife, TV shows that have been adapted again… and again!
2004: HBO documentary series The Staircase, A Perfect Husband book
2005: Written in Blood book
2007: Lifetime movie The Staircase Murders
2014: Criminal’s podcast episode Animal Instincts
2018: The Staircase: The Murder of Kathleen Peterson book
2019: Michael Peterson’s own book Behind the Staircase, BBC Radio 5 Live Beyond Reasonable Doubt? series
2020: Peterson’s second book Beyond the Staircase
2022: An HBO miniseries starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette
A-list stars: Colin Firth and Toni Collette play Michael Peterson and Kathleen Peterson in The Staircase, just the latest in a string of retellings about a mysterious 2001 case
Real-life story: Crime author Michael Peterson with his wife Kathleen who died at their home in North Carolina. He was eventually convicted of murder, although this was later reduced to voluntary manslaughter
In-depth: The case has already been the subject of two thorough documentary series (one in French), including a critically-acclaimed offering (pictured) on which the HBO version is based
A number of true crime books were released off the back of the original series, including 2005’s Written In Blood by Diane Fanning. Paterson released his own book, Beyond The Staircase, in 2020. Pictured, two more books based on the death
A Lifetime movie dramatisation about the crimes called The Staircase Murders was released in 2007
HBO’s latest miniseries, The Staircase, centers around the gruesome and unexplained death of businesswoman Kathleen Peterson, whose life ended at the bottom of a blood-spattered staircase at home in Durham, North Carolina, one night in December 2001.
How she got there has provided the army of amateur detectives fascinated by unresolved ‘true-crime’ cases with one of their most abiding conundrums.
It is a riddle subsequent events — notably her husband Michael’s early release after admitting manslaughter while still asserting his innocence — have done nothing to clear up.
Conflicting theories range from the mundane: she tripped after too much wine; to the lurid: she was bludgeoned to death after discovering Peterson was bisexual; and the outlandish: she was attacked by an owl.
The series stars Colin Firth as Michael Paterson and Toni Collette as his tragic wife, whose life and relationship is explored in a series of flashbacks.
It also has a secondary narrative showing how the case was covered in a 2004 docuseries of the same name.
The eight-episode series first aired in France and was adapted for Netflix, with more episodes added at a later date.
A number of true crime books were released off the back of the original series, including 2005’s Written In Blood by Diane Fanning. Paterson released his own book, Beyond The Staircase, in 2020.
In 2019, BBC Radio 5 Live dedicated an entire series of its Beyond Reasonable Doubt? podcast to the case.
A Lifetime movie dramatisation was released in 2007.
Watch: Stream on Now; watch weekly on Thursdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE
2003: Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife
2009: Film of the same name starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
2022: An eight-part HBO series
Creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who; Sherlock) is hoping the story will be enough to draw in a new generation of viewers to a Sky Atlantic series starring Theo James as the time traveler and Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie as his wife (pictured)
Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams starred in a 2009 film adaptation of the same name
Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel, published in 2003, captured the imagination of millions of readers with its story of a marriage unmoored by a husband’s tendency to skip through time.
Six years later came a film adaptation of the same name, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as the unlucky lovers.
Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel, published in 2003, captured the imagination of millions of readers
Now creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who; Sherlock) is hoping the story will be enough to draw in a new generation of viewers to a Sky Atlantic series starring Theo James as the time traveler and Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie as his wife.
However it has been met with mixed reviews by critics who question if it fresh enough to distinguish itself from the film adaptation.
Time magazine called the show a ‘multiverse of badness,’ with reviewer Judi Berman writing: ‘I would like to travel back to the time before I decided to watch all six episodes of this show.’
Viewers were equally disturbed by the plot point, with some calling it ‘wrong,’ ‘creepy’ and ‘uncomfortable.’
It is not the only time the story is set to be told this year: a new Time Traveller’s Wife musical is due to open in October.
The production, which has music and lyrics by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart, will premiere at Storyhouse in Chester from 30 September to 15 October 2022.
The two-week season will precede a West End transfer, to be announced at a later date.
Watch: Episodes air at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
THE LINCOLN LAWYER
2005: Michael Connelly’s novel
2011: Film starring Matthew McConaughey
2022: A 10-part Netflix series
New star: Manuel Garcia-Rulfo takes on the lead role in a 10-part series of The Lincoln Lawyer
The other lead: Matthew McConaughey starred in the 2011 film adaption of The Lincoln Lawyer
Audiences were first introduced to cocky, near-alcoholic lawyer Mickey Haller in American crime writer Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel on the same name.
He was brought to life on screen by Matthew McConaughey in the 2011 film adaptation. Now, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo takes on the role in a 10-part series which premiered on Netflix on Friday.
Continuing the story: The new adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the sequel The Brass Verdict
The new iteration takes its plot from the second Haller novel, The Brass Verdict, which is set a year after The Lincoln Lawyer.
It was originally set to air on CBS but was scrapped in 2020 amid the height of the pandemic.
The creative team of the CBS version remains the same for the new incarnation with Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Undoing) and showrunner Ted Humphrey (The Good Wife) serving as writers and executive producers.
‘Manuel is the ideal Mickey Haller, as Haller follows in the footsteps of his attorney father with the showmanship of his Mexican movie star mother,’ Connelly shared in a statement from Netflix.
‘Manuel brings a powerful dynamic and dimension to the role – one that aligns with the books and will give the show the opportunity to celebrate the Latinx heritage and roots of this Los Angeles-based story.’
Connelly added: ‘The series will be adapted to serve up the complex and mysterious arcs fans know and love with a mix of light-hearted humor and a dose of family dynamics.’
Watch: All 10 episodes are available to stream on Netflix
THE IPCRESS FILE
1962: Espionage novel by Len Deighton
1965: Film starring Michael Caine
2022: ITV series starring Joe Cole
Retro: The role of Harry Palmer was taken on this year by Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole, who dazzled in a six-part ITV adaptation that was met with rave reviews
What’s in a name: Harry Palmer was coined specifically for Michael Caine when he was cast in the 1965 film adaptation
The IPCRESS File started life as Len Deighton’s first spy novel, published in 1962.
The story involves Cold War brainwashing, includes scenes in Lebanon and on an atoll for a United States atomic weapon test, as well as information about Joe One, the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb.
The IPCRESS File started life as Len Deighton’s first spy novel, published in 1962
The original espionage film and its following sequels were a deliberately downbeat alternative to the hugely successful James Bond films.
The original novel did not give its main character a name. That was developed specifically for Michael Caine when he was cast in the 1965 film adaptation.
So he became Harry Palmer, the chippy working-class spy who loves women, loves cooking, but has no respect for the former public schoolboys running British Intelligence.
Palmer is a contrast to Bond’s privileged private school upbringing and lives and works in a ‘gloomy’ London, where he resides in a Notting Hill bedsit.
The role was taken on this year by Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole, who dazzled in a six-part ITV adaptation that was met with rave reviews.
Cole, whose biggest role to date was as the novice head of a crime family in Gangs Of London, proved himself a ‘master of understated nuance’, according to the Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens.
Deighton went on to write several Harry Palmer thrillers giving producers scope for further series, although news of a further series has yet to be announced.
Watch: All episodes on ITV Hub
2018: New York article
2019: Fake Heiress podcast, My Friend Anna book
2021: American Greed documentary, HBO’s Generation Hustle
2022: Netflix series
The story of the ‘fake heiress’ came to the public’s attention in 2018 when an article titled ‘Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It’ was published in New York Magazine
Released in February this year, the story of Anna ‘Delvey’ Sorokin was told in Shonda Rhimes’s production company, Shondaland, which produced Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna’
Sorokin’s story was the subject of the BBC Radio 4 documentary podcast Fake Heiress by journalist Vicky Baker and playwright Chloe Moss in 2019
In 2019, Anna’s former friend Rachel DeLoache Williams released a book called My Friend Anna – detailing how Sorokin allegedly scammed her out of $62,000
The story of the ‘fake heiress’ came to the public’s attention in 2018 when an article titled ‘Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It’ was published in New York Magazine.
Chronicling how Anna ‘Delvey’ Sorokin duped New York high society into believing that she was a multi-millionaire heiress, the con artist immediately became a social media sensation after the article.
She quickly became the subject of numerous television documentaries including CNBC’s American Greed and HBO’s Generation Hustle.
In 2019, Anna’s former friend Rachel DeLoache Williams released a book called My Friend Anna – detailing how Sorokin allegedly scammed her out of $62,000.
Soon after the release of the book Sorokin’s story was the subject of the BBC Radio 4 documentary podcast Fake Heiress by journalist Vicky Baker and playwright Chloe Moss.
The drama-documentary programme was based on research from Baker, interviews with acquaintances, information available in the public domaine – plus ‘a bit of make-believe’ and starred Bella Dayne as Sorokin.
And by February this year the story had been told again, this time by Shonda Rhimes’s production company, Shondaland, which produced Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna.’
Netflix paid Sorokin $320,000 for the rights to tell the story and she was hired as a paid consultant on the show.
Watch All episodes available on Netflix
THIS IS GOING TO HURT
2017: Adam Kay’s book
2022: TV series of the same name, stage show
Adam Kay’s diary about his life as a junior doctor has been at the top of the bestsellers list since it’s release in 2017
The book was later adapted into a six-part series, which aired on BBC One earlier this year, with James Bond star Ben Whishaw taking on the role of Adam
Adam Kay’s diary about his life as a junior doctor has been at the top of the bestsellers list since it’s release in 2017.
It went on to win four National Book Awards and has sold more than a million copies.
The book was later adapted into a six-part series, which aired on BBC One earlier this year.
James Bond star Ben Whishaw took on the role of Adam Kay, an overworked, under-qualified trainee medic who is so exhausted from long shifts he often sleeps in his car.
The hour-long episodes, which documented former medic Kay’s first tumultuous years as a Junior Doctor, honestly reflected the realities of working for the NHS, said UK healthcare workers tuning in.
This year, Kay has performed to packed theatres all over the country with a stage show detailing his rollercoaster life working in a hospital.
2018: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup book (2018)
2019: The Dropout, Podcast, HBO documentary feature film, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
2022: The Dropout, Hulu series
The story of biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes was told by Hulu in a miniseries entitled The Dropout based on the podcast of the same name, starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes
Later in 2019 HBO premiered a documentary film titled The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival, detailing claims made by Holmes in the last years of Theranos
In 2019 a podcast documentary titled The Dropout was released by ABC News, Nightline, and Rebecca including interviews and deposition tapes of key figures
Once billed as Silicon Valley’s next Steve Jobs, Holmes’ dramatic story was first told in May 2018 by author John Carreyrou in his book Bad Blood
The Dropout follows the true crime tale of biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes’ dramatic rise to self-made billionaire before her dramatic fall from grace for defrauding investors.
Once billed as Silicon Valley’s next Steve Jobs, Holmes’ dramatic story was first told in May 2018 by author John Carreyrou in his book Bad Blood, describing the life of Holmes and the inner workings of Theranos.
The following year a podcast documentary titled The Dropout was released by ABC News, Nightline, and Rebecca including interviews and deposition tapes of key figures.
The documentary included content from Holmes herself, Elizabeth’s brother Christian and Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz – the grandson of Board Member George Shultz.
Later in 2019 HBO premiered a documentary film titled The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival, detailing claims made by Holmes in the last years of Theranos.
The story was told this year once again by Hulu in a miniseries entitled The Dropout based on the podcast of the same name, starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes.
There will be more Elizabeth Holmes to come: Jennifer Lawrence is set to play the disgraced entrepreneur in Hollywood project Bad Blood.
THE GIRL FROM PLAINVILLE
The Girl From Plainville: Elle Fanning (pictured) transforms into Michelle Carter in The Girl From Plainville that explores the woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in texting-suicide case
Real life: Pictured is Carter in court on June 8, 2017 where she was convicted of involuntary manslaughter
2017: 48 Hours episode aired “Death by Text”
2018: Lifetime movie Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill starring Bella Thorne
2019: Dateline NBC episode, HBO documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter
2022: Series starring Elle Fanning
Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself in text messages in 2014.
Conrad Roy, who struggled with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, took his own life after Carter sent him numerous text messages urging him to do so.
She was released early from prison with more than three months left to go on her 15-month sentence in January 2020.
In 2017, a 48 Hours episode aired about the case called ‘Death By Text’, while a Lifetime movie entitled Conrad & Michelle: If Words Could Kill was released in 2018.
Starring Bella Thorne as Michelle and Austin P. McKenzie as Conrad, the film was based on real-life events, court testimonies and authentic texts between the two.
The following year, HBO released the two-part documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter to wide acclaim.
In 2022, Elle Fanning transformed into Michelle Carter for the true drama The Girl From Plainville, which was released in March.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
OG: The original Cheaper By The Dozen came out back in 1950, inspired by the 1948 autobiographical book by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Count ’em: Cheaper By The Dozen was remade in 2003 with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as the parents and Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff and Alyson Stoner as just some of the kids
It has now been remade for a third time, with Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff set to star. Braff and Union’s Cheaper By The Dozen is expected to drop on Disney+ sometime in 2022
1948: Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s book
1950: Cheaper By The Dozen film
1992: Stage adaptation is released
2003: Reboot released starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt
2022: Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union star in a new reboot
The original film of Cheaper By The Dozen came out back in 1950, inspired by the 1948 autobiographical book by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.
It received the reboot treatment in 2003 with a Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt-fronted cast that also included young stars Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff and Alyson Stoner.
It has now been remade for a third time, with Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff set to star.
Braff and Union’s Cheaper By The Dozen is expected to drop on Disney+ sometime in 2022.