Book-to-Miniseries Adaptations Are Having a Moment

3 minute read

HBO is teaming up with J. K. Rowling for the previously announced adaptation of her first non-Harry Potter book, The Casual Vacancy. The network is co-producing the miniseries with the BBC, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

The news comes a month after the production company behind The Hunger Games movies announced it would bring The Goldfinch, the Pulitzer-winning novel by TIME 100 honoree Donna Tartt, to either the big screen or — more likely — television.

“We are looking for the right filmmaker, and then we’ll choose the right home based on that filmmaker,” Color Force studio executive Nina Jacobson told The Wrap. “We’ve been thinking we are more likely to make a limited series for TV. There’s so much scope to the book. At the same time, a filmmaker could come in with a perspective that changes our mind.”

Both moves makes sense: Trying to compress hundreds of pages of Rowling’s writing into a feature film means plenty of source material is left on the cutting room floor, as fans of the author have no doubt learned from eight Harry Potter movies, which kicked off the trend of splitting series’ final installments into multiple parts. Tartt’s rich and expansive novel is no quick read, either: The novels spans several years and follows its protagonist from New York City to Las Vegas to Amsterdam across nearly 800 pages.

“As Hollywood has increasingly shied away from difficult literary works in favor of blockbuster comic-book reboots and sequels, a growing number of novels are coming to television instead,” Alexandra Alter wrote last year in The Wall Street Journal for a piece about novelists flocking to TV.

It doesn’t always work out: As Alter notes, plans for an HBO miniseries based on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad fell apart two years after the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011, and the network also passed on an adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections.

Still, miniseries do have a higher (and cooler) profile than they did a year ago: Shows like True Detective (though HBO submitted it to the Emmys as a drama, not a miniseries) and FX’s Fargo are both critically acclaimed, and the Television Academy voted to separate the Emmy’s miniseries and TV movie categories this past February after a declining number of miniseries led to their merge in 2011. It’s a promising sign — and if they get Vacancy and Goldfinch right, expect the form to only become more popular.

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