Feb 22 2011 9:00am

Is That a TV Show You’re Reading?

Once upon a time, in the long-distant past, movies were made from books.  You remember that, right?  Everyone would say, “Oh, sure, I saw the movie, but it was nowhere near as good as the book,” even if they didn’t necessarily believe it to be true, because that was conventional wisdom. (In fact, it still is. I rarely hear anyone admit to preferring a movie over its book.)

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film stillAnother odd idea that seemed to have become accepted as fact was that television audiences didn’t read.  (Radio audiences were a different matter entirely—The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, for example, began as a radio program.)  Television audience went to the movies—after all, both were visual media—so they could be trusted to attend Star Trek movies or The Blues Brothers (which started out as a Saturday Night Live skit), but they weren’t likely to actually read books based on television shows.

The earliest books I remember being made from television and movies were all science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek and Star Wars both began on film and branched out into books. Slowly, but surely, other crossovers began to occur.  Monk Brings His Own Water TV stillThe insanely long-running cozy mystery television series, Murder She Wrote, became a series of books written “by” lead character Jessica Fletcher “along with” author Donald Bain.  Mr. Monk, too, stars in mysteries both on television and in books.  Lee Goldberg, author of the Monk books, is a natural for the job given that he wrote various episodes of the TV show.

But those are only the most basic types of television and movie tie-in books.

Some books are written on television, but appear in print.  Confused yet?  Check out The Killing Club, “written” by soap opera character Marcie Walsh from One Life To Live. (Or not.  It’s actually by Michael Malone, who was a writer for the soap.) On the show, the character Marcie goes into detail about how she is writing the book.Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle  Likewise, there is Heat Wave, allegedly written by Richard Castle, the star of the TV show Castle.  (The character is played by Nathan Fillion, and his is the “author picture” on the back of the book, but there’s no author information on the copyright page of the book—it’s owned by ABC.)  There’s a great deal of chatter in the show about Castle’s sexy thrillers, and you even get to witness the release party for one of his books. 

If that isn’t tangled enough for you, watch the television show Bones.  Years ago, I began reading Kathy Reichs’ forensics thrillers starring Temperance Brennan.  I love them.  But in the books, Tempe isn’t a writer.  She’s just a forensic anthropologist.  In the television series, the writers chose to make her both a best-selling author and a forensic anthropologist.  And the character that Temperance Brennan of the TV show writes about?  Well, her name is Kathy Reichs.  

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I wanted to get at something I seem to be seeing more and more often.  Although some people call the books by television characters a “publishing gimmick,” the fact is, if they’re well-written, they do sell.  Is this just because people who are fans of the shows are willing to buy anything to further their involvement with their favorite characters and plotlines, or is there more to it than that?

Have you ever bought a book based on a television show or movie?  How about a book written by a character on a TV show?  What enticed you about it?  And when you’d finished it, what did you think?  Would you do it again?  Me, I am waiting for the character Temperance Brennan on the TV show Bones to write a book that actually gets published for me to read.  Then, I’ll be so confused I won’t know which way is up.

Crossovers and Tie-Ins:

  • Numerous sci fi TV shows and movies including Star Trek, Star Wars, Roswell, and Serenity became series of novels by multiple authors.
  • CSI. Originally a TV series. Series begun by Max Allen Collins, continues with various authors.
  • Monk.  Originally a TV series.  Books written by Lee Goldberg.
  • Murder She Wrote.  Originally a TV series. Books written by Donald Bain but attributed to lead character Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Landsbury.
  • The Killing Club.  Book written by Michael Malone, but attributed to character Marcie Walsh on the soap opera One Life To Live.  The character was played by Kathy Brier.
  • Heat Wave and Naked Heat.  Books written “by” Richard Castle, lead character of the television show Castle, played by Nathan Fillion.  (No other acknowledged author.)
  • Sterling’s Gold.  Written “by” Mad Men character Roger Sterling, played by John Slattery.  At least partially actually written by show’s creator Matt Weiner
  • Bad Twin. Written “by” Gary Troup, a character who was never actually seen on the TV show Lost. “His” manuscript is found on the show. (No other acknowledged author.)
  • Bones. A TV show based on books by Kathy Reichs.  The Reichs books (starting with Deja Dead) feature a lead character named Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist.  In the TV show, Temperance—played by Emily Deschanel—writes books starring a character named Kathy Reichs.

Laura K Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs, who've taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.

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1. EvangelineHolland
You've hit the nail right on the head with this: "...people who are fans of the shows are willing to buy anything to further their involvement with their favorite characters and plotlines."

When I was a pre-teen and teen in the 90s, I tried to buy any and everything involving my favorite TV shows: Buffy, Angel, Roswell, The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley, etc, and even wrote BtVS fan-fiction, because being a fan was being in a shared community. During BtVS, you could hop on any fan forum or Yahoogroup, and everyone would know exactly what you were gushing over, and tie-in books fostered that feeling because when an episode ended, the story wasn't over. What's funny now is that as a massive fan of Classic Hollywood films, I seek out any book or play or short story on which a film I've seen is based, and love reading star and studio biographies--and it's all for that same extended community feeling.

But I will agree with you that Harry Potter movie adaptations have never lived up to the books!
Laura K. Curtis
2. LauraKCurtis
And here I thought the movies did a pretty good job on the HP books! To me, movies aren't ever as personal, as affecting as books. So when a book evokes and emotion response from me, I probably won't get the same thing from the movie. Unless that emotion is fear. The immersive quality of movies does a very good job with that. Perhaps that's why thrillers are so often translated into film.
Amber McMichael
3. buriedbybooks
I don't mind tie-ins. I don't buy them, but I really don't care one way or the other. The thing that bugs me more is what happened with Bones. The series has nothing whatsoever to do with the books except the cutesy marketing tie in, the main character's name, and one of her occupations. I would have preferred they change Tempe's name and disclaim any relationship to the books.

Two books where I infinitely preferred the movies? The Princess Bride and The Hunt for Red October. Loved the movies, loathed the books.
Laura K. Curtis
4. LauraKCurtis
Oh, yeah, I couldn't get through Hunt, but I LOVED the movie. I am just not a Clancy fan in general. There was one I liked, but most of them I find tedious.

I couldn't watch Bones at first. I eventually had to just pretend it was completely different. My real problem with it is that I don't believe someone as clinical as the Tempe on the show could write bestsellers. I feel as if her characterizations would be all off.
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