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October 13, 2015

Can Stephen King Work on TV?

by Stephanie Earp, posted Jul 12th 2010 10:02PM

There are some things that just don't seem to work on TV. For example, shows with an intelligent teenage protagonist. They get made, they have fans, they even last multiple seasons, but they never seem to break into the mainstream. Or shows about bands. It should work -- hot young people playing catchy tunes -- but ever since 'The Monkees', the formula has needed serious tweaking to take off. Another thing that doesn't seem to work on TV? Stephen King.

Against all odds, only one successful TV series has been based on a Stephen King story : 'The Dead Zone.' And describing the 2002 series as successful is a bit of a stretch. It lasted a solid 81 episodes, and the first season got good reviews, but it was never a ratings monster. Most people never saw it. I find it surprising because King's work has been such a boon to the film industry, producing Oscar nominations galore, more iconic images than you can shake a stick at and of course, plenty more plain ol' good movies that didn't win awards, but scored big at the box office.

King has had success on the small screen, but usually in a mini-series format: 'It,' 'Rose Red,' 'The Stand' and 'The Storm of the Century' among them, so why is his resume so short on long-format series? To be fair, not that many attempts have been made. There was a single season of a show called 'The Golden Years' back in 1991 -- a sort of supernatural version of 'The Fugitive' -- and in 2004, a remake of the Lars Von Trier masterpiece called 'Kingdom Hospital.' It also lasted one season. You can see why 'The Dead Zone' gets the laurels.

The production team behind 'The Dead Zone' have decided to give old Steve another go with a television adaptation of his novella 'The Colorado Kid.' It's called 'Haven' and it's being shot in Nova Scotia with stars Emily Rose and Eric Balfour. For all the gritty details on the show, check out TV Squad's set visit report. Maybe 'Haven' will be the exception to the rule.

You have to admit, it's weird that King's stories haven't been more meticulously mined for TV content. I'm not a serious King fan, but I have read about a dozen of his books over the years, and the man has a knack for certain conventions that work well on TV: The everyman hero or heroine, slow build-up of tension, great secondary characters and a never-ending resource of scare tactics. Name an everyday object and he can make it frightening, whether it's a car, a cell phone, or a lawnmower. And the one aspect he's notoriously bad at -- endings -- is the one thing you don't really need to have a good TV show.

Maybe the answer is in the way King structures his stories, which are always racing towards those endings, however unsatisfying they sometimes are. They remind me of the penultimate chord in a hymn -- the 'A' in 'Amen'. You can't just leave it hanging there, the human mind yearns to resolve it. By stretching his tales over the multi-season arcs required of a TV series, it leaves that chord ringing in the air for too long. Now that I've thought of this metaphor, I realize it works for a lot of shows that have tried to drag things out. 'The X-Files' (for which King wrote an episode many years ago) and of course, 'Lost'.

It does not escape me that I've just named two of the most successful shows of the last couple decades. Maybe these shows have paved the way for a show like 'Haven,' and maybe King's TV time has come. If it was up to me, I would go back further and remake 'Carrie' for television, but that would involve not only Mr. King but an intelligent teenage protagonist, and therefore, it would be bound to fail.

King fans, are you/do you plan on watching 'Haven'? And if you could create a series based on King's work, which would you develop?

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Dark tower could easily be a Showtime or HBO series.

July 14 2010 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't remember Golden Years being a series, so I looked it up. According to wikipedia, it's even worse than you describe: it was a mini-series that didn't even finish its 9-ep run. Yikes.

July 13 2010 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about the movie thinner that was an old storie turned into a 2hr tv movie..

July 13 2010 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is surprising that not many Stephen King books have been used for TV series. "Haven" is actually not even really based on his story at all, The Colorado Kid was more of a mystery novel, with only the slightest hint of two old men maybe having some kind of psychic powers.

I think the problem is some people adapt his work too literally, including the dialogue, which is wonderful in the books, but doesn't always translate to TV/movies. Frank Darabont would be great at doing a TV show on King since he's done amazing things with three of his movies, but he's doing The Walking Dead already.

I could see Salem's Lot, The Stand, Cell, Desperation, Under the Dome, Running Man, It, Firestarter and The Talisman, most of which have been made into movies/miniseries, as TV shows. I agree with you, I think the problem with a King work on TV would be that sense of annoyance that a resolution isn't coming if the show stretches out over several years.

July 13 2010 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If, and this is a huge if, Stephen King were to create a series based on his work, then it should be none other than "The Dark Tower" series. Although, I think it would be more fitting for a one to two part movie, there is plenty of content within these stories to fill at least four seasons if not more. Not to mention, I think the story would be much more gripping if it were made for movie versus television. However, if this series was geared for say, HBO or Showtime, then it might stand a fighting chance.

As we all know with the work of King, it is the gritty, bloody and suspenseful torture that rivets people to their seat. Unfortunately, public television is not ready for that, and as a result, many great shows will continue to fail as public television believes only 13 year old's watch television.

A large wish? Sure. I am a huge Stephen King fan, and would love nothing more than to see this series made into a visual masterpiece. It would probably not happen, as I hope that when it does, it marks the epic end of a master storyteller.

July 13 2010 at 3:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched the first episode of Haven and I have to say, it was somewhat underwhelming especially compared to the strong grab that Eureka had on me the minute it started. Same with The X-Files back in the day.

I think mostly I'm disappointed in the cast. The show has potential when you look at the premise but the casting is somewhat of a fail. None of the actors managed to wow me with their screen presence and performance regardless of the material. It's too bad, really, but I think I'll nix Haven from my TV schedule. I'll give it another episode, but unless it really wow's me, I don't have time to watch another mediocre show.

July 13 2010 at 3:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I already know that this show will fail. How do I know? Two words.....Eric Balfour. He's a show killer. It's doomed.

July 12 2010 at 10:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to labrat's comment
Stephanie E

I know! I didn't want to say that in case he's finally turned things around, but you are so right.

July 20 2010 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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