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Top 10 TV Shows Based on Books

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Jamie Leslie Behind many great television series are the awe-inspiring books that started it all. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 TV Shows Based on Books. For this list, we're focusing on TV series whose premises, characters or plots were derived from novels. Special thanks to our users sarahjessicaparkerth, Emily Fitzmartin and halfwaytohell for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Jamie Leslie

Top 10 TV Shows Based On Books



Behind many great television series are the awe-inspiring books that started it all. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 TV shows based on books.

For this list, we’re focusing on TV series whose premises, characters or plots were derived from novels. However, we’ll be excluding shows such as “The Walking Dead,” as that series is based on a comic book series.

#10: “Hannibal” (2013-15)

While the cannibalistic serial killer known as Hannibal Lecter is no stranger to the big screen, Bryan Fuller was the first to adapt the character to the small screen. The series is loosely based on the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon,” and adapts many of its characters and key elements. Framed largely as a telling of the relationship between detective Will Graham and Dr. Lecter as his psychiatrist, Hannibal’s true measure of manipulation has never been better depicted, as he deceives the minds of everyone around him to get away with his masterful murders.

#9: “Orange Is the New Black” (2013-)

This comedy/drama adapts the real life story of Piper Kerman’s experience in prison as written in her memoir. Since the pilot, however, “Orange Is the New Black” has evolved from being about Piper’s time in a women’s prison to a true ensemble piece. Along with its critical success, the Netflix original series stands out with its highly original premise and colorful cast of characters. While many of the personalities and experiences are admittedly embellished in the show, the author’s portrayal by actress Taylor Schilling is all too real.

#8: “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-14)

This series was inspired by Nelson Johnson’s “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.” Picked up by HBO, viewers were able to witness the Prohibition era in Atlantic City in a way it’s never been presented before. The series follows local mob kingpin Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, portrayed by Steve Buscemi, and his cutthroat methods to extort and control the people of his city. Along with the non-fictional accuracy and performances, the crime drama was critically acclaimed for its engrossing visual style.

#7: “True Blood” (2008-14)

Charlaine Harris’ “Dead Until Dark” novel didn’t hit widespread success until the vampire fixation era hit film and television. “True Blood” follows the books’ main character, Sookie Stackhouse, a woman with psychic abilities who meets a 173-year-old vampire named Bill Compton. With the discovery of vampires inhabiting the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, the human residents struggle to accept their coexistence. With a cast of attractive actors and its timely entry onto the small screen, this TV adaptation of The Southern Vampire Mysteries series was widely enjoyed by fans of the dark fantasy genre.

#6: “M*A*S*H” (1972-83)

Though the popularity of the ‘70s TV series and film overshadowed the literary novel, they still followed the original premise of a mobile army surgical hospital in South Korea during the Korean War. While the show took place in Korea, viewers considered it a strong statement on the on-going Vietnam War from its detailed depictions of the conflict’s events. Many of the first season’s episodes were even based on stories told by real life MASH surgeons, and it was the combination of true-to-life stories, magnificent acting as well as comedy and drama that helped the “M*A*S*H” TV series succeed.

#5: “Dexter” (2006-13)

Before becoming a staple on Showtime, Dexter debuted in Jeff Lindsay’s novel “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.” After being picked up by the network, actor Michael C. Hall took on the role of the righteous serial killer. Channeling his dark urges by disposing of degenerates he feels have escaped proper justice, Dexter Morgan strives to live a normal life while coexisting with his “dark passenger.” If anything, no series has allowed us to relate more to a deranged murderer than this one.

#4: “House of Cards” (2013-)

This Netflix adapted series started with a novel written by British politician and author Michael Dobbs. We follow Frank Underwood, the cutthroat politician who will literally stop at nothing to work his way to the highest seat of power. Being one of the shows that put Netflix original series on the map, “House of Cards” has received countless Emmy nominations not only for its infinitely impressive cast, but also for its outstanding storytelling. You know a show’s good when the President of the United States admits to watching it.

#3: “Sherlock” (2010-)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in 1887; over a century later, the master of deduction is still being adapted in countless films and television shows. This Emmy-nominated BBC series is one of the absolute best and most unique interpretations, setting the classic Conan Doyle stories in present-day London. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has significantly redefined the role of the brilliant detective partnered with Martin Freeman portraying his elementary sidekick. With heart pounding suspense and inventive mysteries, “Sherlock” does the timeless character justice while giving him a modern twist.

#2: “Sex and the City” (1998-2004)

This critically acclaimed series had its humble beginnings as a column in the New York Observer written by Candace Bushnell. After her ideas were finally published into a bestselling novel, HBO picked up the series that follows four women’s lives in New York City and their various escapades in love, sex, and relationships. In between the show’s quirkiness and satire, it also tackled pressing social issues and shed light on the male/female dichotomy. It further paved the way for more sitcoms with edgier subject matter and casts primarily comprised of women.

Before we unveil our pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Gossip Girl” (2007-12)
- “Friday Night Lights” (2006-11)
- “The Vampire Diaries” (2009-)
- “Justified” (2010-15)

#1: “Game of Thrones” (2011-)

George R.R. Martin’s adapted TV series has not only become HBO’s most watched show, but has also set the standard for all television based on fantasy novels to follow. With brilliant storytelling and an integral cast, “Game of Thrones” has captivated a worldwide audience. While based on the author’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the TV series’ storyline progression plans will eventually surpass the books with no signs of slowing up. We just hope the show lasts long enough for us to find out who takes the Iron Throne.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite show based on a book? For more awesome Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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