What Literary Classics Would Make the Best Modern TV Adaptations?

These days TV fans simply cannot get enough of modernized literary properties. From ABC's Revenge, and its retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, to CBS's Sherlock-Holmes-reboot-with-a-female-Watson Elementary, networks just love dusting off old tales to create flashy new stories (Once Upon a Time, much?). But before this trend ends, hopefully we'll get a chance to see a few more titles get the ol' "adapted for the masses" treatment, what with prettier main characters, sleeker settings, and an overall hipness. From laugh-out-loud comedies to steamy, creamy dramas, these ain't your mom and dad's masterpieces...


Don Quixote

Old Premise: Delusional Spanish dreamer thinks he's a knight and gets into all sorts of misadventures with a knucklehead sidekick.

New Premise: A lunatic Spanish grandfather and his aimless teenage grandson take on the vicious street gangs of East L.A. ...with hilarious results.

Pilot: Expelled from Windmill Retirement Home for eccentric vandalism, Donald Quixote (Edward James Olmos) must go live with his working-class daughter (America Ferrara) and her aimless teenage son, Sancho (Jake T. Austin). At first his insanity is a strain on the household, with antics like wearing the recyclables as a suit of armor simply embarrassing everyone, but eventually his old-world charm helps Quixote protect the family from corner toughs, El Hoyo Maravilla.

Season Arc: Quixote develops a one-sided romance with local cake maker Dulcinea (Rosie Perez) and founds a community center for outcasts and would-be psychopaths.

Hip New Title: D.Q.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Old Premise: Disfigured recluse falls in love with a tragic, free-spirited gypsy.

New Premise: Quick-witted hunchback chiropractor struggles to run a small business in the Notre Dame college town of South Bend, Indiana.

Pilot: When a late mentor leaves him a chiropractic practice, unlucky hunchback Dr. Luke Quasimodo (Matthew Lawrence) uproots his big-city life to move to Indiana and gain the trust—and business—of college students and academic residents alike. There's only one problem: His alma mater is USC and the practice is located in a crumbling cathedral. A gruff building-code inspector (Michael Chiklis) tries shutting down the business for political reasons, and Quasimodo is ready to give it all up—until spunky World Arts and Culture student Esmeralda (Olivia Thirlby) catches his eye.

Season Arc: Quasimodo installs a giant bell at the top of the cathedral, and kisses Esmeralda during the inaugural ring, only to find out she's carrying the building inspector's baby.

Hip New Title: The Bell Curve


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Old Premise: Respectable gentlemen leads a double life as a killer monstrosity.

New Premise: A kind-hearted Denver stockbroker with a split personality must rely on his murderous second self for hot trading tips.

Pilot: Hank Jekyll (Hunter Parrish) has always been a good Colorado samaritan, donating huge sums of money to a children's hospital named after his late wife and son. When a mysterious cocktail turns him into a vicious brute, he finds himself at the center of an insider-trading scandal—and loving it. Trading under the name of Eddie Hyde, he gains the attention of a secret society of moneymen led by the elusive Gabriel Utterson (Neal McDonough), who introduces Jekyll's dangerous alias to the seedy underground of the stock market. But will fast cars and even faster women cause Hyde to take over for good?

Season Arc: Jekyll becomes President of the United Nations General Assembly after Hyde cannibalizes the former title holder.

Hip New Title: $PLIT


Moll Flanders

Old Premise: Gold-digging con artist repeatedly marries in and out of fortune, bearing children and scheming along the way.

New Premise: Gold-digging con artist repeatedly marries in and out of fortune, bearing children and scheming along the way... in the year 2083

Pilot: Down-on-her-luck Molly Flanders (Eliza Dushku) is a genetically enhanced courier for the mega-corporation UltraNex who abandons her biologically ordained destiny to seek fortune in the NetherColonies while pregnant with a half-hologram, half-cyborg baby. There's just one problem: She's being followed by an army of hover-chimps bent on bringing her to justice before the League of Mutant Elders! Accompanied by a smooth-talking marauder (Ethan Peck), Molly must con and cheat her way past the Death Borders into a world of sewer pirates and laser fairies, all while seeking out the father of her unborn infant holoborg.

Season Arc: Molly becomes the face of a revolution, uniting the NetherColonies and sparking a war with the Mutant Elders in the Realm of the Other.

Hip New Title: MOLLY 6.0


The Wife of Bath's Tale

Old Premise: Mystical hag teaches a jerk knight what women really want.

New Premise: A pair of British coeds—one descended from an actual hag, and the other a slacker son of a disgraced knight—team up to solve brutal crimes in New York City.

Pilot: Facing eviction, genius Women's Studies professor and performance artist Trisha (Victoria Justice) takes in the only available roommate she can find—a slovenly chauvinist named Lester (Alex Pettyfer). While at first they butt heads, a shared interest in the murder of a bartender at hip local cocktail lounge The Milliner brings the two together. However, Lester's crude attitude toward the opposite sex just might drive them apart.

Season Arc: Trisha uses her background in performance art to assume a variety of disguises while the two discover their landlord Mr. Canterbury has filled the tenement with other members of the famous Canterbury Tales, each with a secret darker than the next.

Hip New Title: Bath Time


Medea

Old Premise: A barbarian woman loses her husband to a young princess, then murders the new woman with a poison dress and strangles her own children.

New Premise: Divorce lawyer takes justice into her own hands, offering revenge-for-hire services to single mothers who've been failed by the Chicago legal system.

Pilot: Nicknamed "The Barbarian" for her no-nonsense ways, Maddie Law (Patricia Richardson) takes on the pro bono case of a wronged wife (Amanda Bynes) while under investigation for the mysterious death of her own children... by ex-husband and heroic police chief Jason (Kyle Maclachlan).

Season Arc: Maddie confesses to the murder of her own children... who are found alive at a Greek orphanage.

Hip New Title: Courting Maddie


BONUS: If networks can base shows on Twitter feeds, why not a series rooted in ancient cave paintings, too?

Old Premise: Venus figurines stand by some running animals. Also fire.

New Premise: Plucky archaeologist/sexual adventurer kills her own food and sells cords of chopped wood in a remote logging town.

Pilot: Feisty archaeologist Vivian Cave (Felicity Huffman) is transplanted to the boring town of Anacortes, WA to investigate an extinct underground civilization. However, the group of subterranean Eskimos may still be thriving—and planning an attack on the world above. While hunting for her own meat one night, she makes love to a sultry forest drifter (Tom Welling) who holds the keys to the mysterious peoples down below, and invites her to join the cause...

Season Arc: Vivian becomes queen of the tunnel Inuits and learns how to astral-project through time and space using magic snow.

Hip New Title: Caving In!



So there it is, folks, the future of TV, brought to you by the past. What famous stories would YOU like to see adapted for primetime?

Comments (61)
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the Don Quixote show sounds really cool!!!
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I love the Count of Monte Cristo and Revenge is great. So I'm good.
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BBC did Jekyll. And like Sherlock (and same producer Steven Moffat) there is no need. Netflix that.
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I second that motion. Netflix the hell out of that. they're masterpieces
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Medea sounds like something CBS would produce.

I think the Quixote idea would have the best chance. It's ridiculous, but imagine someone like Greg Garcia (creator of My Name is Earl/Raising Hope) leading the charge...could be hilarious.
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Now that Disney owns Star Wars, can we have a live action show loosely based on Harry Potter? We can have intrigue at the Jedi academy, teachers that are secretly Sith, a young padewan with untold power. Am I the only one that would think that be awesome??
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i could hate/lust watch anything alex pettyfer is in, and when i read the canterbury tales in a grad seminar, i just kept saying to everyone "that's great, but let's talk about the wife of bath" so this is a win/win for me.

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Please feel free to cite this page as a resource in any scholastic literary criticism. It's basically as good as the Norton Anthology.
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Quixote? Really? I'm a Spaniard and it's one of the most booooooring books I had to read in school.
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was already redone as Jekyll.

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As I Lay Dying, only for realz. Or with Zombies.
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Everything is better with zombies. Even Jane Austen is better with zombies.
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Feel like "...or with Zombies" would "revive" a lot of old works. Pun DEFINITELY intended.
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I would watch Courting Maddie!
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They should make a Dr Jekel and Mr Hyde movie that's a faithful translation from book to movie with good British actors.
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Dr jekel and mr Hyde is being done right now on once upon a time :)



And that picture of "America ferrera" is not America Ferrara lol
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I think that's intended to be a picture of Rosie Perez.
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Personally I think Once Upon a Time is getting out of control, and the show is suffering, in my opinion, from all the shifting 'universes' and if they're not careful it'll suffer a fate like Heroes did -- bringing up JUST the right hero they need every time there's a certain problem, or a universe that contains what they need and they can somehow get to. Season one was solid, though.
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I could have sworn one of the new shows was basically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was about some doctor/playboy. There was a preview for the show on this site a while back.

Dangerous Liaisons. Though this is pretty much every soap ever.

Sword of Truth (though not classic lit. I always thought t this would make a great show if it got the GoT treatment and not whatever Legend of the Seeker was.)
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Paradise Lost

Finnegans Wake (Bonus points if you could actually do this one)

1984

Enders Game (this would just be awesome, but there is movie so whatever)
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I think Paradise lost would end up being far too cheesy and full of CG like the Clash of the Titans remake, or worse yet, Beowulf. Has 1984 been done as a movie? It'd be easy enough to turn into a series where the protagonists are always running and what not, but that would ultimately ruin the original story.



The others might work, if indeed you can get Finnegan's Wake to work.
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I imagine a show based on FW would be a lot like being in Salvador Dal's mind.
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Congratulations, Ryan. You should sell you show ideas to the some TV channel. I see a lot of potential there! Since you work for tv.com, does it mean you work for CBS? Wouldn't they listen to you?
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I hope everyone realizes I'm trying to think of the worst premises possible from some pretty dull (but important) works. I do like "A Modest Proposal" (the original Swift essay, I mean), but you know what I'm saying. More later.
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Love the idea for a TV show based on Swift's essay. Maybe it can air in the same Tuesday night block as adaptations of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" and Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man."
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A Modest Proposal: (old premise) A Juvenalian essay that suggests a solution to the poverty problem in Ireland would be for the poor to sell their children for food to the rich, thus taking down two birds (food and poverty) with one stone.



(New Premise) A Sci-Fi thriller based 100 years from the present in which the economy and governments have collapsed world-wide, leading to the rich forming dictatorships that exist largely in peace with one another, but precariously on the edge of war. The 99%ers have been forced into slavery or military duty by the 1%, who control everything, and poverty and disease are rampant outside the 1%'s sheltered domes, where large cities once stood. The dictators of each nation have just agreed that in order for them to sustain themselves and to continue humanities existence, the impoverished will be culled by town (based on draws, which are set up) and made into food. The series begins at this point in time, with huge amounts of narrated exposition, and with the uprising of a few brave people in the villages outside the dome located in what was once London, England.
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Francis' Bacon: (old premise) a story about the English Renaissance thinker whose ideas about empiricism drove the scientific revolution.



(New premise) An indigent old man who goes about the city of New York, modern day, and helps people out of their misery and crises through MacGyver-like science and experiments. His pay? BACON! Once received and eaten he goes off into a back alley and disappears until the next episode's crisis.
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The Bhagavad Gita: (old premise) prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna debate war and a variety of other topics at the edge of a battle field before eventually engaging in war.



(new premise) A young Indian scientist, who speaks only in Dharmic scripture, must struggle against a powerful but immoral pharmaceutical company who have stolen his ideas for mere profit. While he is offered riches and power by said company, the ghost of his wise father, in a series of internal soundtrack voice-overs and flash backs, helps keep the young scientist on the righteous path.
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Jude the Obscure: (old premise) an up-and-coming stone mason is duped into marriage by a young woman who wants to latch on to him, only to give up his dreams and die poor, while the woman who duped him has little to say about it.



(new premise) Liam Nieson is an old-school Stonemason, a long-time-in-training operative who collects and protects artifacts. While his mentors are hunted and killed, the young operative is seduced by a young woman who is a low-ranking operative in a rival clan, and who hunts for his secrets and treasures while he falls steadily into her grasp. Eventually, they give in to each other and end up the hunted by both parties, to their ends.



(I am, of course, being sarcastic)
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If you pitched these ideas, I'm willing to bet a few of them would be picked up -- or at least when they networks shook their heads and kicked you out, they'd immediately steal your ideas and only slightly change them to create 'their own' shows. There's literally heaps you could do with 'Cave Paintings', for example, even though you were of course being sarcastic.



What would I like to see? I'll do that next post.
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Would you get something like "Cavemen"?
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They sky's the limit! But seriously you can literally glean anything from practically anything else. Let's say you turn 'Cave Paintings' into some semi-Sci-Fi, semi-Fantasy show where some archeologist finds ancient paintings that when touched, transport the person back to that time to solve a problem and forever jump here and there searching for a way home. Or make it into a Stargate-like show. I was being half sarcastic in my original post, but it could easily be done.
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AWESOME IDEAS! How about modern Vanity Fair, Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, The Divine Comedy or Of Human Bondage?
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Divine Comedy would be neat. You could even go the route of the game Dante's Inferno if you wanted to appeal to the action crowd.
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I would watch these so hard. How can you not love a show with a premise/tag line of "Also fire"???
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Interpreting "classics" to include SF classics, I might pitch:

Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters" would make an excellent action series. Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" stories would make an excellent cable alt-history mystery series (has to be cable to cover the special effects.) For over-the-top sci-fi action, though, Doc Smith's Lensmen series provides the ultimate in good-vs.-evil cosmic adventures.
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Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray"
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Hahaha! Classic. The story of a young vampire who stands out more than his vamp buddies because of his pallid skin and his melancholy attitude that affects the weather.
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No kidding, Molly 6.0 sounds like a badass Showtime half-hour show. I would totally watch that!
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Am I the only one who wanted the hip new name for The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be "Hunch"? Seems like a new ABC hit.
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These are terrific, but in addition to Do No Harm, there's the BBC miniseries Jekyll, which is awesome and on Netflix.
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$PLIT will have to aim for a different crowd then those (i.e. jet-setters and lovers of Colorado)
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love this article! all of it :*
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I would definitely watch Bath Time (it needs a new title though) and Medea. O hope you have trademarked these shows. Some channels are desperate.
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Bath Time could definitely be a working title. Maybe "Tales" or "Haggy Endings"?
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I laughed especially hard at the titles. Very good today.
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I'd see king arthur of round table put into a setting of rival drug gangs, where merlin'S a chemist and arthur a drug lord/gang banger, morgana a chemist too and went for her revenge with rival gangs, because she didn'T became boss when step father died and arthur took his place...this writes itself lol



but like dr jekyll, King Arthur's been adapted already lol



all those ideas we could come up with adaptation of the old classics could all be(mostly will be) crap, so I see your point why be original when we are already craptastiginal....



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It's been done before. So make it a musical!
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many of these stuff sounded very promising:) and sadly I am kinda sure we will be seeing some of them next year.. better get your copyrights guys:)
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MOLLY 6.0 sounds like a winner. I'd watch it if someone dares make it.
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I laughed myself silly
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Wasn't the Wife of Bath's tale about a rapist getting a happy ending instead of being punished for his crime?
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what shows were based on Twitter feeds???
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Sh*t my dad says
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no wonder it failed.. how lame!
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$#*! My Dad Says on CBS.
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Isn't NBC's Do No Harm Jekyll and Hyde?
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That's exactly what I was thinking.
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You know all fun and games aside, a true adaption of Don Quixote might actually work as a period peice. I could see a mini series or full blown series being successful, maybe put out by the BBC or AMC. They would have to expand the story a bit but it could still work.



Oh and Jekyll was the good persona, Hyde was the bad one. And BBC already had a series adapting it to modern day.
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We fixed the Jekyll vs. Hyde good/bad mix-up!
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brilliant
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