A French website, Golem13, as an April Fool, purported to interview a hipster who only watched TV Box sets on VHS. The idea was that this hipster would wait a whole year for VHS tapes of hit shows. It was a fun piece with nice art. But don’t take my word for it. Golem13
But of course if you are to do things properly you have to back to a time before even VHS. While some shows were sold commercially, or illegally traded, on 8mm for many people the only way you could own some shows was by buying a novelisation.
Of course two of the most popular shows of the here and now, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’, are based on novels. But I am talking about instances where the TV show came first and was later novelised.
The practice was common through the 60s and 70s, right up to the home video boom of the early 80s. Even some 90s shows were novelised although by then it had had become less common. That said even today you can get some novelisations of shows.
The most common type of show to get the novelisation treatment was Science Fiction. The Genre lends itself to prose and its audience tend to the sort of people who like to have a piece of the show. Plus the fact when your imagination is being inspired by prose the effects never look cheap and tacky.
The picture I used is from James Blish’s first volume of adaptations of the original ‘Star Trek’ series. Blish was a well respected Science Fiction author. He was born in America but by the 60s had made his home in Britain. This meant that most of the adaptations were written without him being able to see the original episode. He would work from a script, and in many cases not the final shooting script.
This led to some differences between the episodes and the novelisations. Most of them actually positive, Blish didn’t have to deal with the unavailability of an actor and didn’t have to abide by an effects budget. He could describe things that were later cut in favour of stock footage because they had run out of cash. When the original series was being remastered Blish’s adaptations were used as a starting point for how new effects would look.
By the time ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ launched in 1987 VHS was king. Only the pilot ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ and some of the key episodes were novelised. This trend continued with ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Voyager’. Although alongside the series there were stand alone novels that at times would inspire episodes.
The BBC licensed adaptations of ‘Doctor Who’ as far back as 1964. Although there was a break in the early seventies The Doctors adventures have been novelised ever since. My good friend Blackberry Juniper and Sherbet has many reviews of Doctor Who books and Novelisations, as well as other series, all of them well worth reading.
It was not only Science Fiction that got the novelisation treatment. Even some sitcoms got in on the act. John Esmonde and Bob Larby wrote two volumes of ‘The Good Life’ the first followed the arc of series one, while the second was more of a mixture of series two and three.
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais wrote novelisations of ‘Porridge’ and its follow up ‘Going Straight’ as well as ‘What ever happened to the Likely Lads?’ while there were early novelisations of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.
Some adaptations did mix with the form. ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ was adapted in the style of a political memoir and ‘Degrassi Jr. High’ was written as if by the students as a diary, an English assignment or letter.
One of the most recent TV shows to get a novelisation was HBO Prison Drama ‘Oz’ this was in the form of the diary of Augustus Hill. Hill was the character who narrated every episode, even after he dies, and the diary was also a plot point in season five where fellow prisoners are trying to get it published as per his wishes in his will.
‘Oz’ is something of a rarity as very few shows that were on air in the 2000s are novelised, at least in English, Manga of popular TV shows are still very popular in Japan, which is a bit of a shame. The world needs more of the novelisation.