Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Novelizing a popular TV show

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. (Example: Turning I Love Lucy into a serialized thriller series similar to 24.)
by Dietrich Kalteis
I don’t watch much TV nowadays, so I’ll look at some shows I loved when I was a kid. Although writing a modern take on the exploits of Maxwell Smart while changing the genre might not work … well, definitely the shoe phone showing up as an iShoe would need some rethinking. And turning Hollywood Squares into a whodunit where one of the squares goes missing isn’t likely to win a Scribes Award. 
While novelizing an existing series seems a little like working backwards, I can see how it would capitalize on its branding. Also, there have been many popular novels that have spun from TV shows like the different CSI series, Monk, Star Trek, Batman, Superman, 24, Monk, Murder She Wrote, the X-Files and a long list of others. 
Since I write about crime, I’ll stick to that and draw from the many cop shows from back in the day, ones that inspired me to write crime stories in the first place. Shows like The Rockford Files, Baretta, Mannix, Hill Street Blues, Police Story, and Hawaii Five-O.
Barney Miller was one of my favorite cop sitcoms that ran from ’75 to ’82 and took place mostly in a detective squad room, with some hilarious characters, bad coffee and a single jail cell. It was a well-written series, and the only existing novelization I could find was Fish Strikes Out by T.J. Hemming. The book was based on the ABC series Fish, which was a spinoff from the original series, and which starred Abe Vigoda. And writing about the interaction between a bunch of oddball cops and the strange characters that wander into the squad room seems right up my alley. 
The Job was another cop sitcom that ran from 2001–2 that I enjoyed. It starred Denis Leary, playing Mike McNeil, a hard-drinking New York detective with his own unique twist on fighting crime who juggles the chaos of married life and a girlfriend on the side. Alongside an interesting squad of characters, this could work as a novel. 
The Avengers series from the early sixties also came to mind, and I found that several novels have spun from it. John Peel who wrote the original TV series also wrote Too Many Targets, based on the series, and he wrote other novels under several pseudonyms based on Doctor Who, Star Trek and James Bond. The popularity of The Avengers led to a French TV commercial for champagne with Macnee and Thorson reprising their roles. The success of the ad led to a remake of the original series in ’76, running in Canada as The New Avengers. If I novelized it I’d leave the genre alone, but I might set it in modern-day Vancouver. Emma Peel was perfect, and Steed had that umbrella (something he’d need here), although his character could use a bit of a makeover. I’d let him keep the saber in the umbrella, but instead of the Savile Row suit, I’d deck him out in something by Brooks Brothers, take away the gas-guzzling Rolls and give him a Tesla. Then I’d have the pair attempting to bust up a smuggling ring at the ports, throw in some dark humor and sexual tension, while trying to keep that cool jazzy air from the original show.
Columbo, yup loved this, and the original character showed up in a number of novels: The Columbo Collection was a series of stories written by the show’s co-creator William Link. There was even a novel based on the show published in Sweden and another in Japan. The show’s star Peter Falk also contributed to The Cop Cookbook — arresting Recipes from the World's Favorite Cops, Good Guys, and Private Eyes. I haven’t checked it out, but Peter Falk’s recipe ran right alongside ones by Clint Eastwood, Dennis Franz, Angie Dickenson, Tom Sellick, Jack Webb, Tommy Lee Jones, Francis McDormand, James Garner, and more.
A couple more shows that came to mind: The Saint starring Roger Moore, which originally came from a series of books by Leslie Charteris, published between 1929 to 1963. And The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which ran from ’64 to ’68 also inspired two dozen novels. Real Cold War stuff. And I already mentioned Get Smart, which inspired about a dozen novels. 
Social issues were handled more delicately on TV during the seventies, but All in the Family, while not a cop show, tackled them head on. Nothing was off limits, and its anti-hero Archie Bunker was the poster boy for racism and homophobia. A man who was cynical and politically incorrect at every turn while his wife Edith was his polar opposite, a cross between little miss sunshine and the voice of reason. As far as I can tell, this one was never novelized, but it could work.
In recent times, there have been a number of incredible cable series like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Justified, Deadwood, Better Call Saul, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Of course, Justified sprang from Elmore Leonard’s stories Fire in the Hole, Pronto, Riding the Rap and Raylan. Some very talented creators and writers like Vince Gilligan, David Simon, Ed Burns, George Pelecanos, Graham Yost, David Milch, Alan Ball have given us some great story lines and characters, and I think any of these would translate well into novel form.  

5 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Fun stuff, Dieter. Love the iShoe. Where can I get one?

RJ Harlick said...

I loved the Avengers too. Fabulous show. I can picture Steed and Emma stepping into a sleek sliver grey Tesla and zooming off after the bad guy.

RM Greenaway said...

Funny to think we were probably watching Barney Miller at the same time way back when. Back when TVs had little channel dials that rotated from 1 to 12. Or am I hallucinating?

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yeah, right Rachel. I remember having to get up and change the channel knob, maybe give the bunny ears a wiggle, back before we got cable.

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