10 Authors Who Deserve an Anthology TV Series
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Thanks primarily to the international success of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, the television anthology series is back in vogue. And, after Brooker ditched original broadcaster Channel 4 in favour of a larger scale deal with Netflix, the UK network went searching for a new genre anthology to fill that void. The result was Electric Dreams, which is nearing the end of its first season. But there’s one major variation between the two series: every Electric Dreams episode is based on the sprawling works of a single author -- science fiction legend, Philip K. Dick.
With that in mind, what other writers have the breadth of work to suit a similar anthology TV series? An obvious pick, Stephen King, is already taken. The upcoming J.J. Abrams-produced Castle Rock takes a slightly different approach and instead acts as a portmanteau series, intertwining multiple King short stories all set across the titular town.
The most important consideration is the quantity of work. A few short stories won’t cut it. These authors need twisting tales galore. Also helpful is previous success on the big screen. Dick has got that in spades. Blade Runner, alone, secures his adaptation credentials, but he’s also responsible for Total Recall (x2), Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau. And, if Dick and King are anything to go by, genre thrills might be best suited to the format, as opposed to more conventional drama.
First up is another master of sci-fi. In this increasingly futuristic world in which we live, Isaac Asimov’s grounded stories (he also wrote non-fiction science and history books) could be the perfect distillation of society’s technophobia. He wrote the short story collection that inspired the Will Smith vehicle I, Robot, and that film’s “Three Laws of Robotics” (a set of rules designed to protect humanity, by which all robots must adhere) is all Asimov – he’s even credited with inventing the term “robotics!” With AI advancing faster than anyone can keep up, his scarily prescient robot stories would be great to adapt, but “Nightfall” (1941) stands out as a perfect one-off. The Science Fiction Writers of America named it the best science fiction short story written prior to 1965. It concerns a planet eternally lit by sunlight as they prepare for a total eclipse. Asimov described it as social science fiction and a move away from far-flung technological space opera towards more human issues. Is it just me or does that double as a perfect description of Black Mirror?
HBO has already jumped on the Bradbury bandwagon with an upcoming adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 starring Michael B. Jordan, but there’s plenty more inspiration to be had from this famous American author. His lyrical style would be well served by the impressive visuals modern prestige television can accommodate. He has history on the small screen, too, having contributed to previous anthology series including Fireside Theater and Star Tonight. There was even a show dedicated entirely to his work. He hosted The Ray Bradbury Theater, an anthology series based on his short stories, between 1988 and 1992. It would be interesting to go back to the first episode of that show in 2018. “Marionettes, Inc.” (1949) is set in a world where the titular company provides (illegal) robot duplicates for everyday life. In this brilliant little tale, a man considers whether to follow his friend’s lead and buy himself some time away from his wife.
Another genre that could soar in anthology form: the murder mystery. And there’s no one better to turn to for noir atmosphere than Raymond Chandler. Author of such cinematic classics as The Big Sleep, Chandler got his start writing shorts for the famous pulp magazine, Black Mask. A more traditional procedural format has worked in the past, with HBO’s 1980s series, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, centred on Chandler’s most famous character. But, a prestige television update could still work -- think Sherlock in 1930s LA.
Arthur C. Clarke
The brain behind Stanley Kubrick’s monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke was regarded as one of the “Big Three” of science fiction, alongside Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Virtually every short story Clarke ever wrote can be found in the 1,000-page tome, “The Collect Stories of Arthur C. Clarke”, which offers plenty of material for adaptation. A series would require an incredible writing team. Clarke always strived to tell scientifically rigorous tales of future technologies. They were often stories set in the 21st century, as envisioned at the time. And, with so many of Clarke’s key predictions having come true (satellite TV, online shopping and GPS etc.), a new series would require inventive and detailed updates to make these tales relevant for a modern audience.
Known more as a children’s author, Roald Dahl delighted in the macabre in his short fiction. Writing for magazines including Collier’s, The New Yorker and Playboy, Dahl was unafraid of tarnishing his family-friendly image. The beloved author would undoubtedly approve of a new series, as he was a champion of the anthology format. As early as 1961, he hosted and wrote for Way Out, a genre anthology lead in to The Twilight Zone on CBS in the States. Later on, the British series Tales of the Unexpected began as a Dahl centric series, before moving on to adaptations of other writer’s short stories. But the likes of “The Landlady” (1959), “Skin” (1952) and “Man from the South” (1948) are perennial tales. Also, his affinity for ambiguous or twist endings is very Black Mirror.
Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier has a celebrated history on film. The great Alfred Hitchcock adapted no less than three of her stories with varying degrees of success – Rebecca and The Birds, on the one hand, and Jamaica Inn, which was disowned by both author and filmmaker, on the other – but there remains plenty of fresh material ripe for adaptation. The recent discovery of some of du Maurier’s early short stories includes the likes of “The Doll,” which was written when she was just 20 and tells the risqué story of a woman obsessed with a mechanical sex doll.
Overshadowed by Chandler in the public eye, Dashiell Hammett was an equally gifted author of hard-boiled detective fiction. Sam Spade, the protagonist of one of the most famous film noirs, The Maltese Falcon, is Hammett’s Philip Marlowe (created nearly a decade prior, no less). Most suited to an anthology series, however, would be the so-called Continental Op, an unnamed private investigator that debuted in 1923 and led many of Hammett’s first-person stories. In a series, lead actors could be interchangeable, but with defining, unifying character traits, such as a world-weary perspective and the power of manipulation. His grounded stories and authentic dialogue, in particular, would suit a gritty street-level series.
H. P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft has not proved to be the most easily adaptable of authors. Even recent Best Director-winner Guillermo del Toro failed to get a version of “At the Mountains of Madness” (1936) off the ground, with the studio balking at the blockbuster price tag and a proposed R rating. “Lovecraftian” has become a widely used and distinctive descriptor for work featuring horrific beasts and tormenting psychological horror. But all of the East Coast writer’s success tragically came after his death. A series would require exceptional special effects, which would push the budget way up. But The Walking Dead has proved that it is possible to create inventive effects week in week out. An opening season could unite the works of his famous “Cthulhu Mythos”. The nightmarish intensity of Lovecraft’s writing may put mainstream success out of reach, but his unique work is more than worthy of modern adaptation.
Edgar Allan Poe
A huge influence on the aforementioned Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe could headline a gothic horror anthology. He was, in fact, one of the first American authors to harness the short story format. He advocated for brevity in storytelling, preferring narratives that focused on a single idea, rather than sprawling complex plotting. He likely wouldn’t have taken too kindly to 21st-century prestige television’s emphasis on dense narratives. This makes him the perfect candidate for an anthology series that explores a multitude of different stories and concepts, rather than a single complex plot. His famous poems, including the likes of “The Raven” (1845), would also provide evocative inspiration for chilling episodes.
Victorian author Charlotte Riddell’s supernatural short stories were less celebrated than her novels, but they’re still packed to the rafters with creeping dread. A master of the haunted house tale, Riddell’s bite-sized chillers would appeal to an international audience hungry for British period-set thrills. She excelled at crafting a tangible sense of place and could assemble detailed descriptions of locations she’d never visited herself. “The Open Door” would work perfectly as a foreboding titular tale.