Besides being a runaway ratings success, CBS’s Under the Dome has proven that a weekly television drama based on a novel by Stephen King works. King’s novels are treasure troves of story and character potential that go beyond the books’ narratives. His worlds are rich enough for story mining, and creators can grow and shift the stories of the book into something wholly new, just as Brian K. Vaughan is doing with Under the Dome.
So, with Under the Dome in mind, here’s a look at some other great King properties just ripe for television…other than The Dark Tower of course, because it just goes without saying that it would be a damn tragedy if no one adapts the adventures of Roland the Gunslinger and his Ka-tet in this life time.
Needful Things (1991)
Yes, there was already a Needful Things film starring the legendary Max von Sydow and Ed Harris in 1993, but the story of Leland Gaunt’s antique shop where dreams turn to nightmares has more going on than can neatly fit into a two hour film. The show would feature an ensemble cast of Castle Rock, Maine residents all drawn into the web of the demonic Gaunt.
The story centers on Gaunt’s newly opened antique shop, Needful Things. Anyone who enters the shop will find the one single item they desire most, all Gaunt asks for in return for that item is a future favor. It’s as if everyone that leaves the store becomes Gollum levels of obsessed with the item they barter for. Every week can focus on one of the cast members and their backgrounds to understand why they are obsessed with the particular item Gaunt sells them. Like Under the Dome, there are plenty of characters to go around, and the web of intrigue that Gaunt weaves while calling in his favors will keep viewers guessing. Each item has a potential for drama, and the concept is made for episodic television.
We all remember Tim Curry’s character defining performance as Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 television mini-series, but other than Curry’s scene chewing brilliance, the rest of the series was pretty pedestrian. It is a huge story that spans centuries as Pennywise rises every twenty-seven years to feed on the children of Derry, Maine. The show could center on the Losers’ Club, a group of friends who fought the monster in 1958 after the death of their unofficial leader, Bill Denbrough’s, brother. The Losers are a group of kids joined together by their unhappy lives, and they band together to stop It from spreading more misery. Twenty-seven years later, the Losers must reunite as adults to stop the returning It from again preying on Derry.
The use of flashback and modern day sequences is reminiscent of Lost, and the contrast between the children’s’ unhappy childhoods and the adults they become is a powerful storytelling tool that adds depth to King’s cast. Along with Pennywise the Clown, It takes many forms such as a leper, a giant spider, or whatever its victims fear the most, a literal smorgasbord of terror, so Pennywise’s infrequent appearances can be an added layer of drama to the show. The show can dabble in flashbacks beyond the time of the Losers, and explore the history of Derry, making the setting a character unto itself. There is so much more to It than just a clown in a sewer!
‘Salems Lot (1975)
With True Blood departing the air in 2014 there will be a vampiric void to fill on television. ‘Salems Lot, King’s second published novel and his only full-length vampire story, would fill that void nicely. There have been three separate made for T.V. ‘Salem’s Lot movies over the years, but none captured the feeling of dread evoked by the novel. The skeletal idea of the story is a modern day take on Dracula, with vampires that are in no way sparkly, sexy, or dreamy. They are akin to rats and act as a parasite to any community that is unlucky enough to have drawn the vamps’ attention.
The main vampire of the story is Curtis Barlow, a vampire drawn from the classic mold of Dracula and Nosferatu, he holds many of the residents of ‘Salems Lot in his thrall, and is an omnipresent threat throughout the narrative. Like It and Under the Dome, ‘Salems Lot is another King study of the nightmares contained within small-town U.S.A., and its portrayal of vampires will be a refreshing alternative to the last decade of sexy vamps used so well in True Blood and used not-so-well in Twilight. ‘Salems Lot could be the perfect series to move the bloodsuckers away from the recent sparkly shenanigans that has diluted a once proudly horrific genre.
The Talisman (1984)
Written with genre great Peter Straub, The Talisman is, perhaps, King’s most overlooked masterpiece. The novel is as rich as The Stand, as terrifying as It, and as artistically daring as the Dark Tower series. The Talisman has a tone that King’s constant reader will be familiar with, but it also establishes another world where King and Straub get to flex their fantasy and world-building muscles. Imagine a show that is part classic King and part Game of Thrones…that’s The Talisman.
The main character, Jack Sawyer, has the rare ability to travel between the “real” world and a parallel dimension called the Territories. Only people whose “twinner” has died in one world can travel between worlds. In our world Jack’s mother, a B-movie queen, is dying of cancer, in the Territories she is also dying, but in that world, she is the beloved queen of all the good people of the land. Jack is aided by a pack of werewolves, a retired Gunslinger that will be familiar to fans of the Dark Tower, and other strange and wonderful creations.
The rich setting combined with King and Straub’s sense of modern horror make The Talisman a completely original experience, one with more than enough conflict and concepts to keep a show running for years. There was a bit of a buzz that TNT was going ahead with a Talisman mini-series but the project got canned due to budget reasons. Thanks to Game of Thrones, it is conceivable that epic fantasy could become a television staple, and The Talisman is the perfect property to continue the revolution.
The World of Stephen King
King is considered one of the most prolific authors of the modern age. With good reason, the amount of short stories, novels, and novellas the man produces is staggering, but many are too long to fill out a two hour movie or too short to be a weekly television series. The unbelievably ballsy and awesome American Horror Story proved that a smartly done, quality horror anthology will attract viewers. Imagine a series like American Horror Story but devoted to the works of Stephen King.
Picture an a-list cast of character actors ready to adapt King’s shorter works season after season. Creators can fit in one, two, or even three King classics into one season depending on the stories, and most importantly, creators can take their time with each story allowing each horrific moment to have the room to fester and breathe. King anthologies like Everything’s Eventual, Skeleton Crew, Night Shift, and Nightmares and Dreamscapes, could be adapted into singular episodes, or showrunners can take an entire season to do a book like Pet Sematary or The Dark Half right. Each show’s potential is as big as the King’s dark imagination, which as all his constant readers know, is endless.