The tagline “It’s not TV. It’s HBO” is something many will remember from the late 1990s, back when the cable network was in the vanguard for airing critically acclaimed series like The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Today there’s hardly a cable network in the game that isn’t trying to capture the audience HBO once had all to itself. The upside of all this, aside from better TV, is that more books are being optioned for series adaptation than ever.
Two of the most lauded literary novels of 2010 and 2011—Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, respectively—are both headed to TV after being optioned for series adaptation at HBO. Other TV-to-book deals with potential include Gael Greene’s memoir Insatiable, which was optioned by Starz! There’s also the very-interesting-sounding project in production at Showtime (with Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan attached to star) based on Thomas Maier’s biography, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
For those looking for some of the shows-based-on-books on cable right now, here’s a rundown.
|Dexter||Showtime||Adapted from Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first book in Jeff Lindsay’s series about a serial killer who works in the CSI unit of the Miami PD, this series is now in its sixth season.||According to Random House, Darkly Dreaming Dexter has—in paperback, hardcover, and e-book—860,000 copies in circulation.|
|Boardwalk Empire||HBO||This nonfiction work by Nelson Johnson—it’s a tale of corruption and crime in Prohibition-era Atlantic City—was originally published in 2002 by New Jersey–based Plexus Publishing, then optioned by HBO in 2007.||it was already one of Plexus’s bestsellers, having moved 10,000 copies. With a major boost from the TV show, Plexus reports that print sales for the book are now at approximately 112,000 copies. (The publisher did not have e-book numbers readily available.)|
|Jusstified||F/X||Based on a short story called “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard, the author wound up writing a full-length novel, Raylan, about the titular Kentucky U.S. marshal after the success of the first season of the show.||HarperCollins did an announced first printing of 150,000 copies on Raylan, which was released on January 17, to coincide with the first episode of the show’s third season.|
|Game of Thrones||HBO||Screenwriter/author David Benioff (The 25th Hour) co-created this fantasy epic based on George R.R. Martin’s bestselling series, A Song of Ice and Fire. (The series name comes from book one.) After a critically acclaimed first season, season two will premiere in April.||Random House reports that, across all formats—print, digital, and audio—there are 15 million copies of the five titles in Martin’s series in circulation|
|The Walking Dead||AMC||Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard’s comic book series about a group struggling to survive after a zombie apocalypse was already a bestseller—and an Eisner winner—when the TV adaptation premiered on AMC on Halloween 2010; the show is now in its second season.||Skybound, Kirkman’s at-large imprint, reports there are over three million copies in print of the trade paperback, hardcover, and single issue comics, of The Walking Dead.|
|Rizzoli & Isles||TNT||al plaudits of the other series on our list, this TNT procedural has quietly become one of the top-rated shows on cable since it bowed in July 2010. It’s based on Tess Gerritsen’s book series about a hard-driving Boston detective (Rizzoli) and her crime-solving friend and colleague (Isles).||There are nine titles in Gerritsen’s series, and her agent, Meg Ruley, said that, worldwide, the in-print figure for the line is 16 million copies. Gerritsen also wrote a (free) promotional digital short for TNT, called “Freaks,” that has been downloaded over 200,000 times.|