Friday, January 18, 2013

The Comfort TV Library

Reading is a more highly regarded pastime than watching an old TV show. But what if that show was based on a book? Does that make it more respectable?

A surprising number of classic TV shows carry a “based on the book by…” credit. If you want to start building a Comfort TV library, here are a few suggested titles to get you started. Then, next time you’re in a conversation with friends who are debating whether Charles Dickens or Jane Austen better explored the themes of social class in 19th century England, you can offer your own literary perspective: “Well, I’m not sure about that, but I do know that The Love Boat would have been far better served by adhering more closely to Jeraldine Saunders’ original text.”

The Love Boats
Despite its racy title, Jeraldine Saunders’s memoir offers few of the delights of the ‘70s series that provided steady work to Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley. Saunders spent ten years as one of the luxury cruise industry’s first female cruise directors, and she certainly saw her share of Commandment-breaking during that time. But this reads more like an expose’ of the industry than an account of someone setting course for adventure with her mind on a new romance. 

Life Without George
This is one of the more suspect “based on” credits, as this forgotten book by Irene Kampen supposedly inspired The Lucy Show. But viewers were far more likely to conclude that the misadventures of Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley were simply a continuation of the same inspired comedy moments performed by Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance on I Love Lucy. And they were. The book credit was an attempt to dodge paying I Love Lucy creator Jess Oppenheimer for the use of what were essentially the same characters. Oppenheimer sued, and won.

Martin Caidin’s futuristic 1972 novel was the basis for both The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Caidin created the characters of astronaut Steve Austin, government honcho Oscar Goldman and scientist Rudy Wells. While this is acknowledged in the credits of both series, rights disputes with the Caidin estate played a significant role in the delay that kept both shows from being released on DVD for several years. 

The Homecoming
Earl Hamner’s novel The Homecoming was the inspiration for The Waltons, an unexpectedly popular 1970s series about a large family in rural Virginia trying to survive the Great Depression. Hamner’s narration opened every episode, and there’s a fascinating special feature on one of the DVD sets in which Waltons cast members meet the members of Hamner’s family that inspired their characters. 
 Perry Mason
Before he became television’s most honorable and successful attorney, Perry Mason was featured in more than 70 courtroom thrillers written by Erle Stanley Gardner, the first of which appeared in 1934. There were radio and film adaptations as well. But while there were once tens of millions of Mason novels in print, the character has now been defined forever by the performance of Raymond Burr, who personifies the crusading attorney just as Robert Young’s Marcus Welby once personified the doctor we’d all love to have taking care of our family. 

Arthur Hailey’s book was perfect for adaptation by ABC into a landlocked Love Boat, thus providing even more work for Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley. The series shifted the setting from New Orleans to San Francisco, and kept the character of Peter McDermott (played by James Brolin), while creating new executive and front desk staff to mingle with the celebrity guests each week. 

Eight is Enough
Like Tom Bradford, the character played by Dick Van Patten in the Eight is Enough series, author Thomas Braden was a columnist with eight kids. Unlike his fictional counterpart, Braden was also an ex-CIA operative who made Nixon’s enemies list, and was married to a woman who had affairs with Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Kennedy. And you thought the Bradfords had issues.

Little House on the Prairie
The pioneer stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder were already established classics before they were adapted into a long-running NBC series starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. To fill out 200+ episodes, not counting spinoffs and movies, the show added an abundance of new characters, but Nellie Oleson was not one of them. Ingalls based her on several spoiled kids she met in her early years. Here’s a case where the TV show improved on the original texts, thanks to the inspired villainy of Alison Arngrim.

The Flying Nun
What seemed one of TV’s most bizarre creations was actually inspired by a book called The Fifteenth Pelican, written by Puerto Rican author Marie Teresa (“Tere”) Ríos Versace. They kept the characters of Sister Bertrille and Sister Sixto, as well as the Convent San Tanco setting, but unfortunately the friendly pelicans didn’t make the cut. While the effervescent performance of Sally Field has made the show a Comfort TV classic, the book is just as charming and worth seeking out for anyone who enjoyed the series.  

No comments:

Post a Comment