A Novel Approach as Producers Revive Decades-Old Books for TV

The Name of the Rose Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Telemunchen Group

Best-sellers from the 1970s and 1980s — from 'Catch 22' to 'The Name of the Rose' — are returning as high-end drama series.

In today's booming global market for TV drama, everything old is new again.

Fueled by the seemingly insatiable hunger for high-end TV among international broadcasters, cable outlets and streaming platforms, producers are dusting off decades-old novels and films and turning them into limited series.

AMC and the BBC are adapting the 1983 John le Carre thriller The Little Drummer Girl as a six-part series featuring Michael Shannon, Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) and True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard and directed by Korean auteur Park Chan-wook (Oldboy). Italy's 11 Marzo Film and Palomar, together with TMG in Germany, is rebooting Umberto Eco's 1980 medieval crime drama The Name of the Rose as an eight-part series starring John Turturro and Rupert Everett. And George Clooney has teamed with Hulu on a six-episode adaptation of Joseph Heller's seminal anti-war classic Catch-22, first published in 1962, which Clooney and Grant Heslov will direct and which Luke Davies and David Michod are writing.

Germany's Constantin Film, together with Netflix, is shooting a modern-day thriller inspired by Patrick Suskind's 1985 best-seller Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and Constantin is separately developing a TV take on Christiane F., the autobiographical tale, first published in 1978, of a young woman's rapid descent into heroin abuse and prostitution.

“On one side, the producers are going through their rights catalogs, seeing: what IP do we have, what can we do with it,” says Herbert L. Kloiber of TMG, a producer on The Name of the Rose series. “But you're also seeing a desire among the authors to have their books adapted in a way that better reflects that scale and the original intention.”

TMG on Monday announced it had already closed deals on multiple territories for The Name of the Rose, with pay TV group Sky taking German-speaking Europe, Orange for France, NRK in Norway, YLE in Finland and Denmark's Drtv. Budgeted at $32 million (26 million euros), the eight-part limited series features Turturro as 14th century Franciscan monk William of Baskerville, who, together with his novice Adso von Melk (Damian Hardung), become embroiled in a series of mysterious murders at a secluded monastery in the Alps. Rupert Everett co-stars as the merciless inquisitor Bernard Gui, who prosecutes anyone who criticize the pope and is out to destroy the Franciscan Order itself. Currently shooting in Italy, the series is set to premiere in spring 2019.

Jacques Annaud turned The Name of the Rose into a hit feature film in 1986 starring Sean Connery as William of Baskerville and Christian Slater as Adso of Melk, but the drive behind many of the new projects is frustration at movie adaptations of the novels in question. The majority of these books produced forgettable features.

And the scope of a limited series makes it easier to attract top talent eager to commit to shorter shoots. Add to that the recent success of limited series — think HBO's Big Little Lies or Ink Factory's The Night Manager — and the market drive behind the book-to-series trend is clear.

"It's almost unbelievable now, but when we put Night Manager together — all of four years ago — people said limited series were a backwater. They were hard to finance and hard to sell," says Ink Factory co-CEO Simon Cornwell, producer of the new Drummer Girl. "AMC hadn't done a limited series in a decade. Then along came True Detective, Night Manager and the Netflix and Amazon explosion, and the whole model changed."