Book adaptations - Or: Why books make the best series templates!

Why do books provide the best series templates? 3 takeaways from our SEHR SEHR SERIEN podcast episode about literary adaptations.

3 Takeaways from the latest episode of our SEHR SEHR SERIEN podcast

Books are an insanely popular template in the world of series: not only are many series based on books - according to Rotten Tomatoes, there are currently at least 125 literary adaptations in the works - they're also extremely popular with viewers*. Many of Netflix's most successful series in recent years, THE WITCHER, YOU, 13 REASONS WHY, BRIDGERTON, and THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT, are book adaptations.

Why is that? 

One central reason is found in the format of serial storytelling: epic tales like George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (the HBO series GAME OF THRONES, based on it, is available at Sky) can be told in full breadth as a series, and given space to characters as well as many subplots. In the latest episode of our SEHR SEHR SERIEN podcast, Vanessa Schneider and Gerhard Maier address the question of why literary adaptations are so successful and give a brief overview of their favorite series based on books. Joining them as a guest is book expert, blogger, and series fan Marina aka Nordbreze with her own personal tips.

The conversation got us thinking, which is why we'd like to share our 3 takeaways on the topic of literary adaptations in series form with you here.

1. Books become series more often than movies

For a long time, more books were adapted for the cinema than for the series screens at home. That has changed, reports The Atlantic in an extensive analysis of the "literary television" trend. The reasons are obvious: The lengthy and frustrating development process for an original series idea is no longer necessary. The books have already proven that these stories appeal to a large audience - virtually a guarantee for an equally sought-after series. 

But adapting books is not only worthwhile for series creators - series adaptations are also beneficial for the book market: film adaptations boost book sales massively - but also the number of ratings and reviews on literary platforms such as Goodreads.

2. Books work particularly well as mini-series

In the mid-1990s, HBO coined the guiding principle that its series should work "like novels on screen." This primarily meant moving away from the confines of the classic series, which told stories with self-contained episodes. Continuing to tell an overarching story was mostly secondary here - in a world before hard-drive recorders and streaming, the aim was to make it easier for audiences to get to it quickly. 

It's amazing where this has gone in the last two decades - especially with HBO. At the US pay-TV giant, it is rare to find series that are not based on books: BIG LITTLE LIES, SHARP OBJECTS, THE WIRE, HIS DARK MATERIALS, WATCHMEN and THE LEFTOVERS are just a few of the best-known book-based HBO hits here. A reading list of the most important literary adaptations can be discovered here directly at HBO.

Most book adaptations - not only at HBO, but elsewhere as well - then also find their way to us as completed mini-series rather than in long ongoing series. Exceptions confirm the rule here of course: Long book series such as undead comic saga THE WALKING DEAD, fantasy world success GAME OF THRONES or the current science fiction epic FOUNDATION are planned for several seasons. 

But the advantage of miniseries: You can also get big stars as actors*, because they are not tied to a role for years. The best current example is probably Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy, who are starring together in the best-selling adaptation of NINE PERFECT STRANGERS

3. Reese Witherspoon saw the trend before anyone else

The business model of Reese Witherspoon's production company "Hello Sunshine" is based on successful novel adaptations for a previously often neglected demographic: the series adaptations of BIG LITTLE LIES (the HBO series is available on Sky, THE MORNING SHOW (for AppleTV+) and LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE (at Amazon Prime Video tie popular book material to current social issues - even adding to the book's premise. With her book club on Instagram, Reese Witherspoon tests how books land with her target audience, what interests readers about them and what gets discussed - before also turning licensed material into a glossy series. 

If you haven't listened to our podcast episode on literary adaptations yet, you can always catch up here: on Spotify, Apple, Amazon Music, Deezer, Overcast and Buzzsprout

As a little extra, it includes a sneak peek at the lineup for the upcoming Series Camp festival: three series based on books that will be available to watch for free on streaming platform WATCHROOM from November 11-28. Among them, a hotly anticipated Stephen King short story!