Book adaptations might not seem like a big deal to some people, but when it’s done poorly, it’s basically every bookworm’s worst nightmare. We envision these awesome stories and characters and we hold them sacred because they’ve influenced us in so many ways. But then these stories are taken over by TV creators who go above and beyond with their quote-unquote "creative freedom." And when the final product comes out, we see things like missing storylines, whitewashed characters and unnecessary plot twists. It’s like watching someone try to fix something that was never broken.
But we’ll admit: It is possible for producers to create a really good show without sticking to every detail from the books. I mean, have you seen The Vampire Diaries or Game of Thrones? Those show writers managed to incorporate new ideas and stay true to the heart and soul of the original stories. The following shows, however, could’ve done a better job of sticking to the essence of the books that they were based on:
Based on: The Secret Circle series by L.J. Smith
This CW drama centered on a young teen named Cassie who joined a secret coven of witches — just like the book on which it was based. However, a bunch of details from the book series were changed, including the original number of Secret Circle members, the setting, and details about Cassie's family tree. Fans weren’t too happy about these changes, and even critics weren't impressed. For example, Robert Blanco from USA Today described this show as The Vampire Diaries' "less attractive little sister, one that, beneath all the witchcraft, is just another CW teen-driven soap." YIKES. The show got canceled after just one season — something we kind of know as Britt Robertson's curse.
Based on: The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
In the books, a teen named Sutton dies and her long-lost twin sister, Emma, decides to impersonate Sutton in order to investigate her death. On the show, though, Sutton is kept alive and she runs away from home to search for her birth parents. Meanwhile, Emma stays behind and tries to cover up for her sister by pretending to be her. So basically, the entire plot of the book was changed. And to add insult to injury, the script wasn’t impressive. Geoff Berkshir, a critic from Variety, once mentioned that it included “tortured dialogue like, 'A lie's a lie, but if the reasons are reasonable, then maybe you can forgive the lie.'” …Yeah, not so hard to see why it only stayed on air for two seasons. Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars may have been a hit, but sometimes you can't strike gold twice.
Based on: Surviving Suburbia: The Best of the Guy Chronicles by Chris Erskine
In the book, LA Times columnist Chris Erskine gives us funny essays that describe what it’s like to live in the less-popular suburban part of Los Angeles with a family. It seemed like such a great concept to take to the small screen, but sadly, the execution was just awful. It all felt way too over the top because of unnecessary fantasy segments and voice-overs. Matthew Gilbert from Boston Globe even explained that the trailers hyped up a seemingly great show that was only “full of stale jokes and plastic people.”
Based on: Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
In her book, comedian Chelsea Handler hilariously recounted her craziest experiences, covering personal relationships, her family, and her career. But while her writing got tons of laughs and high ratings from the readers, the same can’t be said about the TV show it inspired. Are You There, Chelsea? wasn’t nearly as thrilling as the book because the jokes were so flat and Chelsea’s character didn’t feel like a true reflection of her. It’s no wonder why the show only survived for one season.
Based on: Notes from the Underbelly by Risa Green
The book focuses on a guidance counselor named Lara Stone, who struggles to balance her very first pregnancy with her stressful job. It sounds a bit dramatic, but the story is actually pretty hilarious and could’ve made for an awesome sitcom. Unfortunately, when the show aired, it simply failed to live up to the brilliance of the book.
As The Hollywood Reporter’s Barry Garron put it, the sitcom was “a lackluster show about a conflicted mother-to-be and her annoying and oblivious husband that mostly provides ammunition to those who argue that Hollywood is out of touch with the real world.”
Based on: Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell
The book that inspired the show focuses on three middle-aged, hard-working women who juggle successful careers with their (drama-ridden) personal lives. Since the author’s book adaptation for Sex and the City did so well (and the plot is quite similar), the network figured that Lipstick Jungle would also blow up. But unfortunately, they were wrong. Critics have gone as far as labeling it a "migraine-inducing soap opera" and a "wooden clog of a melodrama squeezed into a flimsy, satin and marabou mule." It’s safe to say that the show was a huge disappointment.
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The book tells the popular tale of a Swiss scientist who attempts to create the perfect creature out of different body parts, but he’s then disgusted after it comes to life looking like a monster. The doctor ditches his creation, but it proves to be a challenge because letting the monster roam free has dangerous consequences. What’s fascinating, though, is that we see literally none of this happen on the show adaptation. The Frankenstein Chronicles is more like a crime drama, which centers on a London police officer who discovers a weird female corpse with body parts stitched together like Frankenstein's Monster.
Based on: The Martin Murphy series by Colin Bateman
While the book series follows the adventures of undercover Irish policeman, Martin Murphy, the TV show focuses on Daedelus Patrick Murphy, a recovering alcoholic who works as an investigator for First Fidelity Insurance. As a bonus, the show writers included a young and attractive girlfriend (Kimiko Fannuchi), but her connection with Daedelus didn’t feel convincing at all.
Howard Rosenberg from the Los Angeles Times explained: "This is one of those series in which plot is relatively unimportant. What is important is the Murphy/Fannuchi relationship, which is only partially platonic, but fully unbelievable. If the relationship doesn't work, the series doesn't work. The relationship doesn't work. There's just no believing the vivacious Fannuchi and possessive, life-weary Murphy as close friends, much less potential lovers."
Based on: Dinotopia by James Gurney
Many kids grew up reading this children’s classic, so it comes as no surprise that ABC jumped at the opportunity to turn it into a show. The book tells about a biologist and his son, who get transported to an island where dinosaurs and humans coexist in harmony. But the show it inspired didn’t get half the attention that the book did. Some critics believed that, although the visuals were impressive, the show lacked substance and well-developed characters. Perhaps that’s why ABC decided to cancel the series after just six episodes – even though all 13 were originally scheduled to air.
Based on: The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris
We’ll admit it: True Blood is actually a pretty addicting show. But if it didn’t deviate from the original story so much, it could’ve been even better. For example, why did Sookie have a personality transplant? On the show, she comes off as annoying, weak, and gullible. But in the books, she’s the total opposite. Plus, her relationship with Bill got dragged on much longer than it needed to be. These are just a few examples of roughly 4,378,964, so you can understand our frustration here.
Based on: Under the Dome by Stephen King
Expectations ran high for this show, especially since the sci-fi novel was so gripping. It’s about a small Maine town that’s suddenly cut off from the rest of the world with an invisible barrier. Such a plot made for great TV, but as the second season rolled on, the show began to fall flat. Plus, fans who’d read the book weren’t happy about the changes that were made.
Still, Stephen King explained that he approved of those changes “wholeheartedly” because they were necessary (like the fact that the dome stayed in place for months, rather than just over a week). Minor changes aside, though, it was clear that the writers re-imagined the entire story.
Based on: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula actually penned an essay called “A Whitewashed Earthsea,” where she explained in detail how she went from selling the rights to her book to watching the absolute worst adaptation on screen. She was never included in the script-writing process or consulted during casting picks and filming. Instead, the team took things into their own hands and created a completely different show that didn’t reflect Ursula’s book at all.
Ursula said: "When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence."
Based on: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Don’t get us wrong, Anne with an E is a brilliant show with strong characters and an engaging plot. But the issue is that it doesn’t even stay true to the novel, which focuses on a young orphan who’s bubbly, imaginative and fun. In contrast, the series is darker and much more intense than the book.
Moira Walley-Beckett, the show's producer, once mentioned that this was intentional. She said: "In this day and age, themes of identity, prejudice, bullying, being an outsider, searching for a way to be accepted and how to belong are entirely topical and super relevant, and those are themes that are built into the story of 'Anne.'"
Based on: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
The original story is rather dark. The book tells the story of three witches who get seduced by a new man in town who teaches them to grow and harness their powers. But things get ugly when he suddenly abandons them for another woman. In the TV adaptation, however, the story gets turned into a fantasy comedy that feels more like an adorkable fairy-tale. While adding humor was a nice touch, exploring the more disturbing or darker themes would’ve made for a better, more though-provoking show.
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
According to the book, Dracula travels from Transylvania to England so he can regain his strength and also spread his undead curse. And according to the adaptation, Dracula poses as an American entrepreneur so he can get revenge on an organization that destroyed his life centuries ago. While the show does have an interesting spin, it’s not nearly as intriguing as the original story. Most fans would probably agree, since the show got cut after one season.
Based on: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
Following the younger version of Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic character on Sex and the City throughout high school was definitely entertaining. But guys, we can’t just ignore the fact that the show was full of continuity errors with the OG HBO series, tons of details were changed, and that some of the more memorable book characters got excluded. For instance, whatever happened to Carrie’s sisters, Dorrit and Missy? And why did the writers ignore so much of her dating history? Seeing this many contradictions to the book just left us feeling disappointed and confused. And we’re guessing that we weren’t the only ones, since the series got canceled after two seasons.
Based on: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
Most fans would agree that a few of the changes, like the complexity of Clary’s character, worked out in the show’s favor. But still, the writers introduced a lot of new things that made it feel very different from the books, including the age of the main characters and the purpose of the Mortal Cup.
Regarding all these contradictions to her story, Cassandra explained in an interview: “You still care, more than anyone else in the world, about this story and characters. And you still answer to your fans. It’s always hard when people ask me, ‘How could you let such and such happen or be changed’ in the movies or show, and the answer ‘it’s just not up to me in any way’ is a hard one to give.”