How Great Books Become Prestige Limited Series

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

With cable networks and streaming platforms bringing famous novels to the small screen, including Hulu's upcoming 'Catch-22' starring George Clooney, limited series have become an ideal format for literary adaptations.

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 John le Carre 1983 thriller The Little Drummer Girl as a six-part series featuring Michael Shannon 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.

The drive behind many of the new projects is frustration at movie adaptations of the novels in question. The Name of the Rose was turned into a hit film in 1986, but 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."

This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.