THESE BESTSELLING NOVELS AND NONFICTION ACCOUNTS INSPIRED SOME OF THIS YEAR’S BIGGEST EMMY-CONTENDING SERIES. HERE, THE AUTHORS AND TELEVISION WRITERS DISCUSS THE HIT ON-SCREEN ADAPTATIONS AND WHAT THEY MOST HOPE VIEWERS TAKE AWAY FROM THESE STORIES.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF HACHETTE BOOK GROUP
Inspired by the memoirMaid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Surviveby Stephanie Land (January 2019, Legacy Lit)
Creator/writer: Molly Smith Metzler
Stars: Margaret Qualley, Andie MacDowell, Nick Robinson
Premiere date: October 2021, Netflix
Premise: After fleeing an abusive relationship, a young mother finds a job cleaning houses as she fights to provide for her child and build them a better future.
Margaret Qualley portrays a mother who cleans houses in Netflix’s Maid. PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
What did you like best about the Maid series inspired by your memoir?
Stephanie Land: I loved how they showed the cycle of emotional abuse in its entirety and how dangerous it can become so quickly. It answered those out-of-touch questions like, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ or ‘Why do they keep going back?’. A lot of the time, there is no choice.
Which writing, directing and set decisions really impressed you?
SL: The fact that they could not only show the stress of only having $2 in your pocket but showed it in a way that a person who has never experienced that would feel that stress was incredibly impressive.
Which were your favorite parts, and what do you think the actors brought to the roles?
SL: One of my favorite scenes was when Danielle (Aimee Carrero) tells Alex (Qualley) to get up off the floor and get angry. Margaret did such a fantastic job of being stunned through the series, and Aimee was incredible in that moment especially. The writing in that scene was also brilliant. I wish for a Danielle for everyone who finds themselves on the floor, not knowing how to get up.
Why do you think your story lent itself so well to TV and resonated with so many people? What do you hope audiences take away from it?
SL: Honestly, I believe there was more interest in the story because it was a white woman cleaning houses. This has been the case with my book as well. From the series, though, I heard from a lot of female-identifying people who had experienced some type of domestic violence in their lives. It is incredibly common, and I was glad people were talking about their experiences, which is historically a taboo subject. [I hope people take away] how hard it is to juggle paperwork from safety net programs, work, required classes and meetings, work, parenting, illness, housing, food, co-parenting, and on and on and on, when you’re a poor parent. It’s impossible at best, but you do it to survive. I hope people see that those who need government assistance are working extremely hard and fiercely love their kids.
Based on the nonfiction bookDopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted Americaby Beth Macy (August 2018, Little, Brown and Company)
Creator/writer: Danny Strong
Writer/based on the book by: Beth Macy
Stars: Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlyn Dever
Premiere date: October 2021, Hulu
Premise: The series takes viewers to the epicenter of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, from the boardrooms of Big Pharma to a distressed Virginia mining community to the hallways of the DEA.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
How did this show help to bring your book and an important issue to a larger audience?
Beth Macy: The book was a bestseller, which was great, but the Hulu show brought this origin story of this man-made disaster to a much wider audience: Millions of eyeballs have now seen how it was that this scam was perpetrated upon the American public. In terms of busting stigma—the No. 1 key to turning the crisis back—we were able to cull this complicated, 25-year story down to eight hours of exciting television.
Michael Keaton plays a doctor persuaded to prescribe OxyContin in Hulu’s Dopesick. PHOTO COURTESY OF HULU
I love that you were a writer on the show. What key decisions and departures from the book helped to translate it onto the screen? What did you want to make sure was maintained?
BM: Showrunner and creator Danny Strong really wanted the show to combine victim stories with a legal drama in a way that would give the Sacklers the trial they should have had but always seemed to buy their way out of. I had two goals going into the writing room. One, I wanted us not to stereotype Appalachia, which always seems to happen in Hollywood portrayals. Two, I wanted to show the public how important and lifesaving medication-assisted treatments methadone and buprenorphine are to people with opioid use disorder, and how strong— and wrong—the stigma remains about people who take these medicines.
Which were some of your favorite parts, and what did the actors bring to the roles?
BM: There’s a moment in the first episode when Michael Keaton’s Dr. Finnix is on the witness stand answering questions for a grand jury. ‘I can’t believe how many of them are dead now,’ he says, when asked about patients he prescribed OxyContin to. Before he answers the question, you see this plethora of emotions and angst pass through his expression in all of about three seconds. I could watch that scene 100 times and never get bored. As a viewer, it was so obvious that he felt this story in his bones—and he had, having lost a dear nephew to overdose a few years before our show. Also, for the sheer inspiring of empathy: Nobody tops Kaitlyn Dever. The scene where she’s screaming at her dad (Ray McKinnon) in the kitchen brought me to tears.
What do you hope people take away from this?
BM: I hope viewers come away from the series with a newfound understanding of who the real criminals in this story are. ‘Blame the abusers,’ Richard Sackler famously said, and when we stigmatize drug users, we’re following the advice of a sociopath whose goal was to get rich and famous off of this so-called cure for America’s pain. Our show helps correct the narrative about who really is to blame for this worst drug epidemic in the history of our nation.
Based on the novelStation Elevenby Emily St. John Mandel (September 2014, Knopf)
Creator/writer: Patrick Somerville
Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel, Matilda Lawler
Premiere date: December 2021, HBO Max
Premise: A post-apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, this limited drama series tells the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew while holding on to the best of what’s been lost.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF ALFRED A. KNOPF
What was it about the book Station Eleven that you really connected with and that captivated you as a screenwriter and novelist?
Patrick Somerville: I was drawn to the enormous scale of Station Eleven—a story of the world as we know it coming to an end—but the way in which Emily sidelined that idea and made it less important than the small day-to-day interactions we have with people, and how important micro-moments are to a life well lived. Not just the big stuff.
Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde in HBO Max’s Station Eleven PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO MAX
How were you able to draw from your background with books and TV adaptations in writing this?
PS: The challenge with adapting Emily’s novel was to retain the spirit of her voice without having her voice. In TV, there is no narration, and the writing team had to find a way to rebuild, again and again, the tone and emotion she had infused into her novel.
Which elements of the book were important to you to maintain? Which creative choices helped to translate this story onto the screen?
PS: We knew Jeevan (Patel) was incredibly important, and wanted to emphasize the relationship he and Kirsten (Davis) formed in the early pages of the novel. It turned out that those changes informed a huge amount of the story we ended up telling.
Why do you think the series resonated with so many people, and what do you hope viewers take away from it? PS: I think every one of us is both hurt and in mourning from the pandemic, but simultaneously trying to live, and get back the joy that we lost. The story Hiro [Murai] and I set out to tell, before we had even heard the term COVID-19, was a story about how wonderful life can be, no matter what happens. What happens is only a part of the story. What we do with what happens matters much more.
Pachinko stars Minha Kim and Lee Min-Ho PHOTO COURTESY OF APPLE TV
Yu-na Jeon. PHOTO COURTESY OF APPLE TV
Based on the novelPachinkoby Min Jin Lee (February 2017, Grand Central Publishing)
Creator/writer: Soo Hugh
Stars: Soji Arai, Jin Ha, Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-Ho, Minha Kim
Premiere date: March 2022, Apple TV+
Premise: This sweeping saga chronicles the hopes and dreams of a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they leave their homeland in an indomitable quest to survive and thrive.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING
What was it about the book Pachinko that you really connected with and that captivated you as a screenwriter?
Soo Hugh: It’s such a rare privilege to get source material this good. But more importantly, the novel cracked something very raw and primordial in me, asking me to examine how I became the person I am today. It was just that powerful. But that being said, I don’t think every book—no matter how good—requires an adaptation to the screen. I understand why the business is drawn to the proof-of-concept nature of source material, but for me, on a creative level, I have to feel and know that there is a story to be told specifically for the television medium. With Pachinko, I wasn’t certain about this until I hit upon the idea of crosscutting time periods. This was that first spark that eventually lit the fire within me to bring this story life.
What was your process like of adapting it? What additional research did you do and what were you surprised to learn?
SH: The actual adaptation process was a dream in that I felt so connected to the characters because they reminded me so much of my mother or my grandmother—people I love. But the challenge of the show comes from the responsibility of making sure we got the historical fidelity part right. Although this is a fictional account, the Zainichi experience is a real one, and many of the historical events depicted in the show are true. Because of this, so many details of the script were discussed with an army of historians and consultants for a period of two years, from the conception phase all the way to post. I felt more comfortable tackling a story like this with that kind of rigor guiding the way. And in the end, the biggest surprise for me was that all that hard work to get it faithful to the times made the show exponentially better. I feel like I trust the show more, including the characters, knowing that this work was done.
What do you hope people take away from this series?
SH: At the end of the day, after our final episode of the season plays, I want people to truly understand that our past matters—our history matters. And instead of burdening us to know what has come before us—the tragedies and joys—I hope we become more generous with ourselves and the world around us. Living should be a triumph.
Season 2 is based on the novel The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgerton Series #2) by Julia Quinn (December 2000, HarperCollins)
Creator/writer: Chris Van Dusen
Stars: Jonathan Bailey, Simone Ashley
Season 2 premiere date: March 2022, Netflix
Premise: The eight close-knit siblings of the Bridgerton family look for love and happiness in London high society.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Why do you think Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton stories translated so well onto the screen and have acquired such a following?
Chris Van Dusen: I fell in love with these books from my very first reading of them. I thought they were funny, emotional and sexy. Not to mention, they came with this delightful family known as the Bridgertons that I found myself constantly rooting for time and time again. I also think the particular period that the source material is set in, known as the Regency, was a fascinating time. All of it works to afford us an escape. And considering the incredibly difficult times we’re currently living in, who wouldn’t welcome an escape?
Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey in Bridgerton season 2 PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
What was different for you in adapting book two versus book one,The Duke & I?
CVD: We get to meet an entirely new family in season 2. Part of the joy of creating this show has been the ability to focus on new characters each season. That’s exactly what drew me to making this show in the first place. I found the ability to tell closed-ended love stories every year to be incredibly exciting and refreshing. I tried to not do anything differently in S2 because whatever I did in S1 seemed to work. My goal remained the same—to bring all of the magic that the world felt in S1 to S2. I think we succeeded. S2 is incredibly romantic and passionate and moving. It’s been great to have the support of Julia Quinn, who knew that the series would need to take certain creative liberties and make certain storytelling adjustments to be successful in an entirely new medium. I’m beyond grateful to Julia for trusting me with these books.
Which elements of the book The Viscount Who Loved Me did you try to maintain? Which creative choices and changes helped to translate the story?
CVD: By their nature, romance books have happy endings. That is a defining characteristic of the genre. So, the challenge for me in adapting these books for the screen is figuring out how to tell these stories in ways that both honor and respect the genre but at the same time, never allow the audience to be ahead of the storytelling. I think we were able to do that this season, as far as staying true to the spirit of Anthony and Kate’s love story from the book—in all of its sweeping, moving and beautiful glory—but still make certain changes and adjustments that allowed us to take the audience on a wild, surprising and, ultimately, satisfying ride. I always wanted this show to be about more than just the Bridgertons. I wanted this show to be about a society. So I expanded on the books—created new characters, like the Queen. We also tell new, original stories for certain characters for that same reason—like what’s happening with Lady Featherington this season. There’s an entire world here that the series focuses on. It’s one of the things I love most about the show and what makes Bridgerton Bridgerton.
Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller in Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
Based on the novel Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (January 2018, Emily Bestler Books)
Creators/writers: Melissa James Gibson, David E. Kelley
Stars: Michelle Dockery, Sienna Miller, Rupert Friend
Premiere date: April 2022, Netflix
Premise: Sophie's privileged life as the wife of powerful politician James unravels when scandalous secrets surface—and he stands accused of a shocking crime.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF EMILY BESTLER BOOKS/S&S
What was it about the book Anatomy of a Scandal that you really connected with and that captivated you as a screenwriter?
Melissa James Gibson: The book is a page-turner! It’s about power, privilege and consent in a highly stratified world. The story’s got a juicy big twist that has to do with identity. And extrapolating from that plot point, I was interested in how, in our particular moment, the foundations of the patriarchal, monarchical, class-driven world of the story is starting to wobble. Lots of dramatic possibility within that.
What was your process like of adapting it? What additional research did you do and why is this such a timely story?
MJG: The book is set pre the #MeToo movement; we brought the story’s placement forward a few years, so that #MeToo has already entered the cultural and political conversation. Something we talked about a lot was how the characters involved in the crime were or would have been willing sexual partners in other circumstances. There’s a lot to delve into there. All of the story’s major characters are reckoning with themselves and their choices, and are haunted, knowingly or not, by how their pasts have defined their presents. My particular way into the story was thinking about the implicit connection between the two female leads. I always imagined an invisible tether between them across the episodes. In my mind, it’s sort of like they’re having a ‘conversation’ underneath the storytelling as it unfolds.
Which elements of the book did you want to maintain? Which creative choices did you make to better serve the story?
MJG: In the book, each chapter is dedicated to the perspective of a single character. It works really well on the page. In our adaptation, we took a much more fluid approach and occasionally even played around with points of view. For instance, in one key scene, we enter the memory with one character, but then the perspective is hijacked partway through the flashback and we come back to the present in a second character’s viewpoint. We also played with the timing at which characters did the math on certain things and dramatized these key moments of recognition. We brought some characters together on the screen who didn’t otherwise get to meet in the present time frame of the book. Lastly, I think we really tried to dig into the question of privilege and complicity. Our version is equally an anatomy of a particular kind of marriage.
Andrew Garfield plays a Mormon detective in FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven. PHOTO COURTESY OF FX NETWORKS
Based on the nonfiction book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (July 2003, Knopf Doubleday)
Creator/writer: Dustin Lance Black
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones
Premiere date: April 2022, FX
Premise: As a devout Mormon detective investigates the 1984 murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her baby daughter in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah, he uncovers buried truths about the origins of the LDS religion that lead him to question his own faith.
BOOK COVER ART COURTESY OF PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
What was it was about Jon Krakauer’s book that you really connected with?
Dustin Lance Black: Well, first and foremost, it spoke to my own life and my own youth in the church I grew up in—I grew up devout Mormon, and most of my family still is. So I found it to be an incredibly illuminating work—that so much of what Jon Krakauer discusses in the book is not widely known in mainstream Mormon circles. And though I had stopped being active in the church and had done some digging into the roots and the history, there was still so much that was almost impossible to find 20 years ago when his book came out, and it made sense of a lot of things that hadn’t made sense to me for a long time. Soon after it came out, I got onto Big Love, and though Big Love tackled ideas of fundamentalist Mormonism and depicted some mainstream Mormons, the tone of that show didn’t allow me to fully investigate my family’s faith. It had a lighter tone. I wanted to really dig into what the faith was and is. … Certainly the story of Brenda Wright Lafferty’s murder really brings to the surface a lot of the complicated issues that are still not resolved within Mormonism.
Which aspects of the book did you really want to maintain, and which creative choices did you make to translate the story? DLB: I added an investigation narrative, because that’s really the experience of the book. The readers are asked to be very engaged—you cannot be passive. You’re asked to put together, to connect, the events that took place in 1984 with the formation of the church in the 19th century, to understand how one led to the next. I wanted the audience to be that active and that engaged in the television series. In order to do that, I had to keep both the LDS history and the Lafferty story from the 1980s. But I needed some eyes for the audience to experience that through. … So that was the creation of Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba, the investigators—one who comes from mainstream Mormonism and one who comes from outside Mormonism.
What do you hope people take away from this series? DLB: My big hope is that people start to question why women are treated differently in most faiths—and why any faith, not just Mormonism, that says that somehow people ought to be treated as less than because of their gender, is not just unfair, but it is a potentially dangerous message to send to the men who run these faiths. I just think it’s about time we start to question the way women are treated in religion.