To the delicate souls of impassioned readers: Seek shelter behind the remains of skeletal Borders shelves. Blacken my words with splashes of that half-finished chai latte, or smother your retinas with the heat of the nearest book light. This may be hard to read. At the risk of suffering an accusation of literary prostitution by the Holden Caulfields of campus, a confession must be made: In an industry of bankrupt bookstores and cinema flops, television may be the best new home for your favorite characters.
If not solidified by the success of hits like “Sex & the City” and “Dexter,” the recent swarm of TV titles featuring one key phrase — “based on the book by…” — seems to signify that screenwriters are rushing to rip scripts from the bindings of best-sellers. But what is it about recent television, spawning cult followings from “Game of Thrones” to “The Vampire Diaries,” that so successfully intertwines the page and the screen?
Freed from the confines of viewers’ waning attention spans, television is allotted the depth that the books’ built-in fan bases expect, yet the movies fail to deliver. The Blair Waldorfs (originally of Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” series) retain the “villain” quality that is so often a one-dimensional staple of Hollywood, while simultaneously complicating with each episode, constructing a character with motives, secrets and shames. As the silver screen butchers the evolution of endeared romances into choppy dialogue and swift declarations of love (is there no better example than Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”?), television produces a steadier pace and realistic — as realistic as a drama-infused, human-mythical-creature love triangle can be — relationships.
Heart-wrenchingly honest chapters of character development vanish beneath the pressure of a film set. In an effort to compact a story that surpasses hundreds of pages within a time frame that narrowly escapes the mounting complaints of how inexplicably sore my butt is after enduring the local theatre’s seats, cinema fails to mirror the emotional and mental process of a forlorn protagonist. The stale lights flicker to life and the movie ends, whereas the televised experience lures the viewer in with episodes that resonate until the following week.
If film is a one-night stand, television — like literature — is a long-term relationship. (That is, until the production company unexpectedly breaks up with you, leaving a hot mess of “Community” withdrawals in its wake.)
Through each season, a show is granted a continuous stream of opportunities to “get it right,” allowing television’s greatest adaptive advantage: creative liberty. In film, the slightest stray from the page is often deemed unforgivable as fans flock to premieres of the latest “Harry Potter” films. But TV shows, notably “Pretty Little Liars” and “True Blood” in their deviation from the original written works, are free to twist the plot in unexpected ways, introduce unfamiliar characters and, in doing so, create a form of entertainment — dare I say it — better than the original.
As studios continue to forage the bookshelves for fresh storylines, turning a page is as easy as changing the channel. But have faith, readers. That towering pile of tattered “Gossip Girl” copies is in good hands.