10 of the best TV shows based on books

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Television shows based on books Ned Stark sits on the iron throne

Season six of Game of Thrones kicked off earlier this week and like so many others I can’t wait to find out what happens—for once I have no clue either because there are no books to guide me (for readers of the series WTF is going on in Dorne!). Anyhow the whole GOT excitement has had me thinking about other amazing TV shows based on books and so I thought I’d compile a list of ten of my favourites.

#1 Game of Thrones based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series

I’ve talked about my GOT weakness before—and I’m sure a lot of you are equally obsessed or have at least watched it once. And I think it’s this that’s the most impressive thing about the series—it’s managed to introduced adults to fantasy so that even people who claim not to like the genre seem to watch this show. For me I think it comes down to story, the slow deliberate plotting which builds suspense and the fantasy aspects all grounded in realism. Magic isn’t easy. Add to that the fact George R.R. Martin has done his homework when it comes to the period of history his world is based on, so while it doesn’t have to be precisely accurate he and the show’s creators do veer closely to the line of real rather than make believe. Just add sex, political intrigue, some dragons and Tyrion Lanister and you have a show audiences can not only lose themselves in, but identify with—even if we’ve never stabbed someone with a Valyrian sword before.

#2 M*A*S*H* based on 1970 film of the same name and 1968 Richard Hooker’s novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

This series needs no introduction but the book it was based on probably does! This show was one of my staples growing up—there were constant reruns on television and it was something that the whole family—kids, parents and grandparents all enjoyed.

#3 Round the Twist based on stories by Paul Jennings (and later works of various authors)

I’ve added a few Aussie shows in here because I couldn’t help myself. I’m pretty sure every kid who grew up here in the 90’s probably started singing the theme song as soon as they read the title. Based originally on stories written by Paul Jennings and then later, works of various authors, it chronicles the supernatural adventures of three children and their widowed father who live in a haunted lighthouse. Brielle and I actually visited the lighthouse that appears in the opening credits last year on our trip along the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately no ghosts were spotted however we did go for a lovely swim at Aireys Inlet Beach.

#4 Call the Midwife based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

The series tells the story of midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent which gives the people of Poplar (in London’s desperately poor East End) the medical assistance they need in the 1950’s. It tackles a range of relevant contemporary issues while also generating interest with historical themes in the post war years including women’s rights, advancements in medicine and the implementation of the NHS (National Health Service 1945).

#5 Pride and Prejudice based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

One of the most famous TV mini series ever produced the character of Mr Darcy and that wet shirt scene made Colin Firth a household name. Aside from that, it’s the best adaptation of Jane’s book I’ve ever seen. It modernised the story and captured the characters of Jane and Darcy in a way we hadn’t seen before. I still love watching it and so do thousands of others—it’s become the definitive adaptation of Austen’s novel.

#6 Outlander based on Diana Gabaldon’s The Outlander Series

I actually only just started watching this series but from the first episode it had me gripped. One of the reasons I like it so much is that it’s unpredictable. I mean who would think of a 1940’s WWII nurse travelling back in time to 1740s Scotland? Diana Gabaldon evidently, but you get my point. Anyway I’m excited to continue watching and might actually get around to reading the books!

#7 Boardwalk Empire based on Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City

A period drama set during Prohibition-era Atlantic city it’s based on a nonfiction book about mob kingpin Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson (changed in the show to Nucky Thompson and played by Steve Buscemi). In the show the main character interacts with historical characters in both his political and personal life including mobsters (think Al Capone and Lucky Luciano), politicians and government agents (J. Edgar Hoover being one of the driving forces behind the narrative in the last few series). Written and produced by Terence Winter of The Sopranos fame and with the first episode directed by Martin Scorsese, it’s well worth a watch.

#8 Sherlock based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Sherlock Holmes

Out of all the incarnations of our favourite detective I feel this one is the best. The acting is spot on and the writing of the show is brilliant so hats off to Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and their team. For me it takes Sherlock back to the root of it all with a character who is humanised through Watson (and indeed in contrast to Mycroft) yet still has little interest or empathy for human interactions and emotions. He sees everything through the lens of a curious observer. Plus there are great nods in the series to the Conan Doyle originals—for example, Sherlock hiding his cigarettes in a Persian slipper and Watson writing a blog chronicling the pair’s adventures. I also love that London itself is almost a character and while set in the modern day, Sherlock still presents a city that has an air of gritty mysticism making it easy to believe someone like Moriarty is slinking through the streets.

#9 A Young Doctor’s Notebook based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s book of short stories A Young Doctor’s Notebook.

Starring Jon Hamm (Don Draper) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) this show is kind of like Outlander in that it’s completely unclassifiable. Basically the story is a dark comedy (???) about a Russian doctor, a meditation on despair and addiction. The actors play a younger and older version of the same man who’s basically in conversation with himself. It’s an odd little gem of a show and I urge you to take a look.

#10 Cloudstreet based on Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet

I included this TV mini series for a few reasons. Firstly it’s based on one of my favourite, sprawling Australian family dramas of all time, a novel that takes on different meaning each time I read it. This book has been labelled an Australian classic and it’s author a national living treasure. Secondly, the cinematography, acting and story in this miniseries is what people think about when they hear the words Australian cinema. It’s rough, gritty, depressing and yet somehow hopeful with beautiful quiet moments and a real sense of place.

Do you watch any TV series based on books? Which are your favourites? Make sure you let us know in the comments.

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