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?