Confession #2: I’m not gonna apologize for it.
I know TV gets a bad rap, and I agree that most of what’s on nowadays is total crap. Reality shows about everything from fake boobs to the mafia to tattoos to cupcakes. Talk shows where all people do is scream at each other for no apparent reason. Cable “news” stations that somehow keep finding ways to fill 24 hours a day with rumor-mongering. Yeah, when you look at it that way, TV sucks. But there’s another way to look at it too.
Some of the scripted shows on the primetime lineup are excellent. They feature fantastic writing, gripping stories, compelling characters, stellar acting, and a sold hour’s (or half-hour’s) worth of quality entertainment (see: Dexter, Parenthood, The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, The Newsroom, and so many more).
But there is one show that, for me, shines above the rest, that I’m so obsessed with that I’ll talk about it to pretty much anyone who will listen. Yeah, you all know where this is going: The Vampire Diaries.
And it’s based on a YA book series by L.J. Smith, so it totally fits in for this month’s question of the month on TV and film adaptations of YA and MG books!
The Vampire Diaries is, in a word, totally freaking awesome. (Okay, that was three words. Sorry.) And show creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson have done exactly what I believe is necessary when adapting a book series into a television series—they’ve used the book as a foundation for the story (the characters, the general plot, the setting), but then they’ve gone off on their own and, from that base jumping off point, created their own mythology. I think that’s what you need to do in cases like this, because:
A) Ideally, the TV series will last a long time and the writers will need to find ways to sustain the story even after they’ve run out of books to adapt.
B) Television is a much different medium than literature, so it’s important to work with what TV has to offer in the ways of visual images, CGI, special effects, 42-minute installments each with their own complete story arc, etc. In most books, we’re inside the characters’ heads much of the time—but just listening to a voiceover all throughout the show about what the character is thinking isn’t very entertaining.
C) The world changes so fast (technology, how teenagers behave, etc.) so that books can become outdated pretty quickly. A television show is a much more “immediate” medium (most series film an episode between 4 and 8 weeks before the airdate), so they need to change certain things to keep up with the times (remember Bella’s ancient computer and slow-as-all-hell dialup connection in Twilight?).
D) Try as you might, you’re never going to find actors that fit the author’s description completely. In The Vampire Diaries book series, Elena (the heroine) is fair-skinned, blonde, and kind of a spoiled brat. The actor who plays Elena on the show, Nina Dobrev, is Bulgarian, has long dark hair, and plays Elena as far more kindhearted than she’s written in the books. Initially, the casting directors were looking for someone more like the Elena from the books to play the role, but they just couldn’t find anyone who was exactly right. Then they saw Nina, saw what she could do, and changed the role for her. Because they decided to go with the best actor they could find, rather than someone who simply fit the author’s physical description, the show became something different, yes, but also much more compelling than the book series.
So even though diehard fans of Smith’s Vampire Diaries series may still be bellyaching about the changes the show has made, I think the changes made for a better, more formidable story. And that’s what you need to do when adapting a book for the TV screen.
Photo credit: the CW