Almost every book nerd would agree that when it comes to movie adaptations of books, the book is always better. Or at least, almost always. Ninety percent of the time, important scenes are completely left out, minor details are changed, and the actors look nothing like their character descriptions. It’s always disappointing to see visuals that are extremely different from what we envisioned. And unfortunately, the same applies when it comes to TV adaptations.
We’ll admit that, in general, TV adaptations are way more successful compared to movies. And it’s not so surprising, considering how producers have the extra time and leeway to carefully flesh out plots and experiment with the characters. But even so, some of these shows either turn out to be a total disaster or they just don’t stay true to the original story at all. And it’s not that we’re trying to be annoyingly nit-picky (because honestly, show writers can do successful adaptations without staying true to every single detail of the books — hello, The Vampire Diaries and Game of Thrones). But when there are several inconsistencies to the point where it totally ruins the story? It’s kind of a problem…
1. The Secret Circle
Based on: The Secret Circle series by L.J. Smith
After learning that she’s a witch, Cassie gets initiated into a secret coven of witches. But aside from that one detail, it seems like the show and the books don’t have that much in common. A lot was changed, from the number of Secret Circle members (twelve) to the actual setting (New Salem). And in addition, critics weren’t too fond of the show.
Robert Blanco from USA Today said that it was The Vampire Diaries‘ “less attractive little sister, one that, beneath all the witchcraft, is just another CW teen-driven soap.” The show only lasted one season before getting canceled.
2. The Lying Game
Based on: The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
The book series is about a deceased girl whose twin tries to figure out the details of her sibling’s death by becoming her. In the show, the deceased main character (Sutton) is actually alive, and so many other details are changed to the point where it feels like a totally different show. But that wasn’t the only issue. The quality of the script was just not impressive.
Critic Geoff Berkshir from Variety said: “If the target audience can endure tortured dialogue like, ‘A lie’s a lie, but if the reasons are reasonable, then maybe you can forgive the lie,’ then, truth be told, [The Lying Game] might stay in the game for awhile.” …Looks like viewers couldn’t deal with it for much longer because it ended after two seasons.
3. Hidden Hills
Based on: Surviving Suburbia: The Best of the Guy Chronicles by Chris Erskine
The book is a collection of hilarious essays about family and suburban living. But the TV adaptation took things a little too far when they decided to add things like fantasy scenes and corny voiceovers. Viewers, unsurprisingly, were not interested.
Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert wrote: “Underneath the slick production effects and the affluent LA setting, there are only stale jokes and plastic people. The ads for the series promise us, ‘It’s like your life. Only funnier.’ To borrow from another NBC sitcom, if that is true, just shoot me.”
4. Are You There, Chelsea?
Based on: Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
Chelsea’s personal essays were clever, cutting-edge and so funny. So, of course, it would quickly become a best-seller and even land a TV deal. But sadly, the humor and wit of those stories just didn’t seem to translate well on screen. Chelsea’s character was rather bland and the jokes fell flat. The series got canceled after just one season.
5. Notes from the Underbelly
Based on: Notes from the Underbelly by Risa Green
The book follows a guidance counselor who tries to navigate the ups and downs of her very first pregnancy (all while dealing with a jerk of a husband). The book was pretty entertaining and it seemed promising for a humorous sitcom. But the ratings and critical reception weren’t so great.
Virginia Heffernan from The New York Times wrote in her review: “Notes From the Underbelly is a revolting sitcom about pregnancy. Watch and you’ll lose your appetite for life.” Yikes…
6. Lipstick Jungle
Based on: Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell
So this book is pretty similar to Sex and the City, except the main characters are older and richer. With the incredible success of Sex and the City‘s TV adaptation, one would think that the same would happen for Lipstick Jungle. But unfortunately, fans and critics weren’t into it.
Critic Maureen Ryan said that it was a “migraine-inducing soap opera about the lives of high-strung, whiny female executives in New York,” and Ginia Bellafante from The New York Times called it “a wooden clog of a melodrama squeezed into a flimsy, satin and marabou mule.” So yeah, definitely not as good as the book.
7. The Frankenstein Chronicles
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Even those who haven’t read the book are pretty familiar with the story of Frankenstein. A scientist accidentally creates a hideous creature during one of his experiments. But interestingly enough, The Frankenstein Chronicles doesn’t focus on that story or even on Frankenstein himself. Instead, they focus on one inspector who tries to investigate a murder that might be linked to Frankenstein… Um. What?
8. Murphy’s Law
Based on: The Martin Murphy series by Colin Bateman
A show about an undercover cop (and recovering alcoholic) who investigates insurance fraud and lives with a younger supermodel does sound like an interesting show. But unlike the mystery series, the show completely flopped and lasted for just a year.
Howard Rosenberg from the Los Angeles Times said: “This is one of those series in which plot is relatively unimportant. What is important is the Murphy/Fannuchi relationship, which is only partially platonic, but fully unbelievable. If the relationship doesn’t work, the series doesn’t work. The relationship doesn’t work. There’s just no believing the vivacious Fannuchi and possessive, life-weary Murphy as close friends, much less potential lovers.”
Based on: Dinotopia by James Gurney
Most people aren’t even aware of the fact that this classic book got turned into a TV show. It faded into the background as quickly as it appeared, because it lasted for just one season. Thirteen episodes were scheduled to air on ABC, but it was canceled after six because the ratings were that bad.
One critic said the show was “all style and little substance. The effects are good – especially for TV – but far too little attention was paid to developing scripts and characters.”
10. True Blood
Based on: The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlaine Harris
So many things were changed in this adaptation that we’re not even sure where to start. With regards to Sookie, instead of showing the strong, caring, and likable character that was written in the books, she was portrayed as this fragile, gullible and naive person who constantly needed protecting. Then the writers went and dragged out the whole Sookie and Bill relationship, even though in the books, Sookie moved on and chose to see him as a friend. Though the show did turn out to be decent enough, it could’ve been even better had it stayed true to the books.
11. Under the Dome
Based on: Under the Dome by Stephen King
We were so convinced this show would become a hit. The novel, which is about a small town that’s completely cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome, seemed perfect for a chilling and dark series adaptation, but it fell embarrassingly short by the second season. Fans were really pissed about the changes that were made, but Stephen himself wrote a statement and explained that those changes were necessary.
He wrote: “Many of the changes wrought by Brian K. Vaughan and his team of writers have been of necessity, and I approved of them wholeheartedly. Some have been occasioned by their plan to keep the Dome in place over Chester’s Mill for months instead of little more than a week, as is the case in the book. Other story modifications are slotting into place because the writers have completely re-imagined the source of the Dome.” Totally understandable. But still, the book was way better.
12. Legend of Earthsea
Based on: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The author herself actually sounded off about how this TV show ruined her book in an article called “A Whitewashed Earthsea.” She explained the entire process, from the moment she sold the rights to her book to the airing of the pilot on the Syfy Channel. It turned out that she was completely left out of the script-writing process. Casting and filming were also done without her input, so this resulted in a show that didn’t stay true to her story at all. The cast was also mostly white, despite the fact that the characters in her book were racially diverse.
Ursula wrote: “When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.”
13. Anne with an E
Based on: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This series was actually well done and it had a pretty loyal fanbase. But it may as well have been a stand-alone show rather than a TV adaptation because it didn’t feel like the same adorable story from the book about a sweet, imaginative (and sometimes talkative) little orphan girl.
According to the show’s producer, Moira Walley-Beckett, she intentionally changed the tone to make the show more relevant. She said: “In this day and age, themes of identity, prejudice, bullying, being an outsider, searching for a way to be accepted and how to belong are entirely topical and super relevant, and those are themes that are built into the story of ‘Anne.'” Well, fair enough. But did that really have to mean turning the entire series into something so… intense?
Based on: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
The book tells a pretty disturbing tale about three witches. They encounter a mysterious guy named Daryl, who encourages their powers and seduces them all – only to ditch them for someone else. But the TV show adaptation turned out to be a ditzy, light-hearted fairy-tale… or more like a watered-down version of Charmed. As unsettling as the original story is, we feel like it would’ve been way more interesting to make this a serious drama by sticking to those darker themes.
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
In the novel, Dracula is in Transylvania and tries to get to England in order to spread the undead curse. But on the TV show, he pretends to be an American entrepreneur in London and he’s seeking revenge. Perhaps the only major detail that remained the same was the fact that he was a vampire named Dracula. It felt like a legendary story was boiled down to a shallow, drama-filled suspense. It’s no wonder why the show only lasted for one season.
16. The Carrie Diaries
Based on: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
Okay so we’ve got some mixed feelings about this one. Overall, this show was actually okay. But if you’ve read the books and seen the show, you’d notice that several things were kind of jumbled and… well, off. For instance, remember how Carrie went to New York in the pilot episode? And remember how it started off with her junior year in high school? Well, she was actually supposed to be a senior and she never went to NYC until book two of the series. Oh, and then there’s the fact that we never got to see some of the characters (like Missy) from the original story. Changing all of those details around for no reason is just not okay.
Based on: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
The writers of this show basically took the plot and added so many changes to the point where it started to feel like the storyline was totally separate from the books. Those changes also wound up altering the characters’ development and their dynamic with each other – which often felt forced.
Some fans have complained that the acting and dialogue are pretty awful, and they’re pretty upset that so many details were changed. In fact, there has been so much backlash over this that the author herself, Cassandra Clare, stepped in and tweeted about it. “I hate to see the fandom split by an unnecessary war. Show fans and book fans — you are not on opposing sides,” she said.