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The Best Books That Should Become TV Shows

From detective novels to British mysteries, the IndieWire staff has plenty of book recommendations for TV executives looking for IP to mine.

Opened Book on a pile of old books, panorma, good copy space

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Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for existing IP doesn’t appear like it will be quenched any time soon, especially with the effect of the COVID shutdowns continuing to reverberate throughout the industry. Anything that audiences are already familiar with is going to be a plus as studios plan their new slates. The great news? There’s so much wonderful content out there to mine, including some of these novels and book series that IndieWire staffers think would make excellent series.

Some have even been optioned already, but haven’t made their way to television just yet. Get ahead of the curve by checking them out below.

“Rivers of London” Series by Ben Aaronovitch

The first book in Ben Aaronovitch’s series starts out as a typical British detective novel — except the protagonist, Probationary Constable Peter Grant, discovers the key witness to the crime he’s investigating is a ghost. This opens up a whole world of magical beings — and the top-secret dedicated department within London’s Metropolitan Police department that solves crimes with a supernatural bent. Known as “Midnight Riot” in the U.S. (because…actually we don’t know why, but it’s ok), the first novel is funny and nerdy and paints a vivid picture of the magical world that lives under the surface of modern-day London. It’s been described as “Harry Potter for adults” and also “magic cops” by readers (and also the friend who first recommended this series to me), which means it’s a huge, sprawling world that would be perfect for the small screen. Luckily, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Stolen Pictures has already snatched up the rights. “What TV offers us now, which is a cinematic playing field, you can tell these stories with scope and get into creative detail,” Pegg told Deadline of the project, which is currently in development.

Veronica Speedwell Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn

A Victorian London high society butterfly enthusiast and science nerd begins her mystery series — in “A Curious Beginning” — by thwarting her own attempted abduction and striking up a partnership with a cranky natural historian. The series sees the duo investigate murders, disappearances, scandals, and other juicy cases together. As IndieWire’s Ann Donahue describes the six-book series — “An Unexpected Peril” comes out in early 2021 — they’re “sassy will-they-or-won’t-they weirdos having mysterious capers in London high society. Catnip, basically.” And perfect for a dramatic and juicy streaming series!

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson

Ursula Todd lives many lives in Kate Atkinson’s novel, which follows the myriad different paths that one woman could have followed in the early half of the 20th century. Each way starts the same, on a snowy late-winter morning in 1910. From there, Ursula faces childhood tragedies, world wars, relationships both cruel and nurturing as her various possible existences play out and give way to other possibilities. Much of what makes the novel soar is Atkinson’s beautiful prose, but the idea of tracking the ripple effects of tiny changes across years and decades is something that a series could observe with the same care and detail. Lionsgate snagged the rights to Kate Atkinson’s novel not long after the book was published in spring 2013, but the seven years since have only made the book feel more ripe for adapting. Another fascinating tale of lives relived, Claire North’s “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” has a feature film version in the works announced earlier this year. Each with their own perspectives on how one life’s trajectory can change so many others, we should be so lucky to be able to experience them both. — Steve Greene

“Star Wars: X-Wing” by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston

Michael A. Stackpole and the late Aaron Allston’s “X-Wing” books are the pinnacle of the Expanded Universe of “Star Wars” storytelling. They’re no longer “canon,” following the Disney sale, but who cares when you have stories that are this good? The “X-Wing” books showed a path forward that Disney would still be wise to follow with the franchise: they focused on entirely new characters (with the exception of Wedge Antilles) and really did expand the scope of that galaxy far, far away. Nine of them were published between 1996 and 1999, with a tenth being released in 2012. In tone and in format they closely prefigured the style of the starfighter action in “Battlestar Galactica,” in this case bunking down with trigger-happy flyboys and flygirls eager to help the New Republic defeat the last vestiges of the Empire in the years after “Return of the Jedi.” Oh yeah, these stories take place right during the same time frame as “The Mandalorian.” And that show has already introduced a couple X-Wing pilots as returning characters. They don’t have to be the same flyers as in Stackpole and Allston’s books, but those two characters could be a great springboard for action, humor, and world-building of the sort that those novels provided. They also provided a ton of in-universe profanity, which Disney+ could sorely use. — Christian Blauvelt

Maggie Hope Mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal

Another British mystery series, you might ask? Yeah, we like what we like and that is okay! This one, which begins with “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary,” is a meticulously researched tale of an ultra-smart woman who graduates at the top of her class but, thanks to sexism, can only get a job as a typist for the Prime Minister. She’s a skilled codebreaker, however, and quickly realizes that her No. 10 Downing Street clearance gives her the ability to do the intelligence work she was always qualified to do in the first place. Because of Susan Elia MacNeal’s attention to detail, it contains plenty of real-life historical figures — like Winston Churchill, a young future Queen Elizabeth II, Eleanor Roosevelt, and more. Daisy Ridley optioned the rights to the entire series back in 2015, and if it ever does make it to TV, Ann Donahue says it could be “like ‘The Crown,’ but with more spy murder.”)

Chip Hilton Series by Clair Bee

IndieWire’s Ben Travers recommends the Chip Hilton books, a series of sports novels geared toward boys that were written by former college basketball coach Clair Bee between 1948 and 1965, and were updated in the ’90s with changes to reflect more modern social values. The titular all-American sports star excels at football, baseball, and basketball, and teaches the value of friendship and teamwork to kids. Think of the success Netflix found with its “Baby Sitters Club” series, and how “Friday Night Lights” became a cult classic even with people who couldn’t actually tell you anything about football. Combine those two and there’s some real potential there.

Nathan Heller Series by Max Allan Collins

There’s a reason there are so many detective series on this list — they’re addictive, easily digestible, and the format lends itself perfectly to television. IndieWire’s Kristen Lopez recommends Max Allan Collins’ Nathan Heller series, which follows a wise-cracking private detective who is instrumental in cracking plenty of historically significant cases. The books vacillate between hard-boiled detective novels and historical thrillers, and the ride begins with 1983’s “True Detective,” which finds Heller investigating mob corruption in 1932 Chicago.

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