Not every TV show was dreamed up by some people on their laptops in Hollywood. Many of today’s most popular shows have literary origins. Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for example, and Westworld is a thorough and thoughtful expansion of a kind of pulpy early ‘70s adventure novel by Michael Crichton.
But those are high-budget, prestige cable dramas with relatively small audiences. What really brings in the viewers are broad, laugh-track-sweetened sitcoms, like The Big Bang Theory and Mom. Those aren’t based on books, but that doesn’t mean an ’80s-style sitcom couldn’t have a high fallutin’ inspiration. (There’s a show on right now called Superior Donuts that’s based on a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts, after all.) There are plenty of novels out there that would make fantastic, cheesy, classic-style sitcoms. After all, they’re already episodic in nature and explore the kinds of problems that sitcom characters easily solved in 22 minutes, week after week after week. Here are some books we’d love to see taped before a live studio audience.
1.The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
There hasn’t been a good orphan show in a long time, not at least since the heady days of the early ‘90s with Webster, Diff’rent Strokes, and Punky Brewster. Plots often revolved around somebody trying to separate the adoptive parents from their kid for some reason, and the plucky orphan or orphans strive to keep everybody together. That’s pretty much the plot of The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner’s heartwarming tale—clearly from another time—about a group of abandoned kids who become a tight-knit family unit when they take refuge in an abandoned boxcar. Yep, it’s a children’s book about homeless children (one of whom is a baby) living in a dangerous situation. Each episode of The Boxcar Children could be about the Boxcar Children (which is what they call themselves) trying to thwart some bumbling fool from Child Services.Buy it from Amazon
2.Skellig, by David Almond
There have been so many high-concept sitcoms about normal people trying to keep some extraordinary creature hidden from the neighbors or the authorities—an alien on ALF, an alien on American Dad, a robot on Small Wonder, a genie on I Dream of Jeannie, and so on. Just sub in “wise and mystical human/owl/angel creature” for alien, robot, or genie and you’ve got Skellig!, the hilarious tale of a little boy who keeps his garage friend a secret.Buy it from Amazon
3.The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The beloved French children’s book about a sweet and sensitive little boy who lives on a lonely planet all by himself is very reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother.For example, they share a similar framing device—the main character (Ted, the Little Prince) tells of his adventures to a downed pilot, and his children, respectively. Those adventures also often involve relationships gone wrong, such as Ted’s many ill-fated romances, and the Little Prince’s thing with the self-absorbed rose in a jar, and the self-absorbed geographer. All a TV producer would have to do is make the stories funny instead of overwhelmingly melancholic.Buy it from Amazon
4.High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
Think Cheers, but instead of barflies in a bar, it involves a different public place catering to a different compulsion: obsessive record collectors trying to buy records. Except that gloomy store owner Rob, aggressive employee Barry, and milquetoast Dick hilariously criticize the bad taste of anybody who comes in to buy a record. Sure, there are some colorful regulars, but most of the action revolves around Rob, Barry, and Dick ruminating on women, just like in Hornby’s novel. Also, it takes place someplace “cool,” like Portland or Austin, so bands are always dropping by to play a song or two.
5.Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
The famous Gilligan’s Island theme song namechecks Robinson Crusoe, one of the first major novels in the English language—so let’s go back to where it all started and just have a Robinson Crusoe sitcom. He’s a boorish, arrogant jerk, like many sitcom characters, and he’s just desperate to get off that island, by any means necessary. But he’s kind of dumb and his schemes never work, much to the chagrin of his over-it manservant, Friday. It’s Gilligan’s Island meets Jeeves and Wooster!Buy it from Amazon
What novel would you love to see as a sitcom?