5 Must-Watch TV Shows Based on Books

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5 Must-Watch TV Shows Based on Books

According to Nielsen, the average American spends about 5 hours a day watching TV. At the end of your life, that will add up to a total of 9 years spent watching the tube.

Think that sounds high? A new website, http://tiii.me/, lets you calculate how much of your life you’ve spent watching TV by entering your favorite shows. It’s fascinating to watch the hours and days of combined time add up.

So if we’re going to spend a signification portion of our day watching entertainment, or parts of our weekend binge-watching the latest Netflix release, why not pick shows that have been based on books that you could (or could not) read, so that you feel just a little bit better about your nine years spent in front of the screen?

Here is a list of five popular TV shows that were actually based on best-selling novels. If you’re looking to dive into some classic (or future classic) literature, but you don’t feel like renewing your library card, this is the way to do it.

The Leftovers

The new HBO series The Leftovers was well received by critics and viewers after its premiere.  It’s based on a best-selling novel by author Tom Perrotta, whose past work Election and Little Childrenwere both turned into popular movies.

The Leftovers stars Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler and Amy Brenneman, among others, and tells the story of a “father of two and the chief of police in a small New York suburb as he tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy” after 2% of the world’s population inexplicably disappear. I’m just glad the rapture left Justin Theroux behind, and I’ll tune in to HBO to find out why.


So maybe you read a few of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories featuring detective Sherlock Holmes in high school. Hound of the Baskervilles, anyone?

The current remake, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and airing as part of Masterpiece Mystery on PBS, is anything but old-fashioned. Sure, 221B Baker St. is still the address and Dr. Watson is still the sidekick, but this adaptation takes place in modern times, uses text messages between characters to help advance the story, and even has an official app.

Whether you remember Doyle’s versions of the story or not, you’ll be glued to this crime drama.

Game of Thrones

If you haven’t heard of Game of Thrones by now, it’s time to return to planet Earth. George R. R. Martin authored the series called A Song of Ice and Fire, the first of which was entitled A Game of Thronesand was published in 1996. It recently surpassed The Sopranos to become HBO’s most-watched show ever.

The cable series based on the book has an immense fan base, but readers were into it long before HBO premiered their show in 2011. Both types of fans love the unpredictable storylines (the fates of favorite characters are never guaranteed) and might not even realize it is loosely based on the 15thcentury War of the Roses in England. Although I don’t remember reading about dragons in the history books.

Game of Thrones has been renewed for a sixth season with HBO, so you have plenty of time to catch up on reading this sprawling, epic story.

House of Cards

Binge watchers unite in support of House of Cards, a Netflix series based on a British TV series, based on a book. Got that? Each season is released all at once on Netflix, encouraging fans to watch every episode in a marathon viewing season. Even President Obama tweeted about it.

Author Michael Dobbs says he wrote the book after a fight with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The U.S. series is different, of course, but not that different than the book that started it all. It’s true to the spirit of the story I wrote so many years ago – a dark tale of greed, corruption and unquenchable ambition.”

The British series features Ian Richardson as the Chief Whip; in the American series it stars Kevin Spacey. Both are worth watching, although the American series has at least one more yet-to-be-released season. The book that started it all should be on your summer reading list, too (if you don’t mind spoilers, of course).


Let’s go old school and remind everyone that the TV series M*A*S*H* was based on a book as well. The novel, called “MASH: A Novel about Three Army Doctors,” features many of the same beloved, uniform-clad characters like Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan, as well as many of the same shenanigans as the long running show.

And for you young fans who’ve never heard of M*A*S*H*, the show ran for 11 years (1972-1983) and at the time, its finale was the most-watched TV episode ever. Despite taking place in the middle of a vicious war, the show – to its credit – focused almost exclusively on its characters and the human element, rather than on military gear and explosions.

And it’s certainly worth watching to see actors like Alan Alda, but there is also a lesson to be learned about the very young and inexperienced soldiers sent to fight the Korean War.

If you watch all of these shows back-to-back, it will only take 8 days and 21 hours to see them all. Or you could always read the books!

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