A large portion of my collection of TV tie-in novels consists of novelizations rather than original stories. I’ve reviewed a handful of them over the past year or so, including Planet of the Apes #1 – “Man the Fugitive”, which novelized two episodes of the short-lived 1974 live-action Planet of the Apes series, Man from Atlantis #1, “Man from Atlantis”, which novelized the first Man from Atlantis telefilm, and Sons and Daughters, a novelization of Senior Year, the pilot telefilm to Sons and Daughters. The problem with reviewing novelizations is that I always feel like I should compare them to the episode or episodes being novelized. That’s because novelizations are rarely, if ever, strict adaptations of a television script. They may be based on an early draft or a shooting script that deviated from the final television broadcast.
Every novelization I have read has, to some extent, expanded upon the original story as presented on television. The amount of freedom given to writers of novelizations varied. According to Kurt Peer’s TV Tie-Ins: A Bibliography of American TV Tie-In Paperbacks (which I reviewed in December of 2009), “in some cases the writers were required to adhere strictly to the scripts and even use every word from them, while in other cases the writers were given broader latitude” . Peer notes that prior to 1966, scriptwriters retained all rights to their scripts, making it difficult for publishers to purchase the novelization rights.
Based on a list of novelized episodes published in TV Tie-Ins, which runs 15 pages and probably contains several hundred episodes, among the earliest novelizations were ten radio and television episodes of Gunsmoke (novelized by Don Ward for Ballantine Books, first published in 1957), eight episodes of Tales of Wells Fargo (novelized by Sam Allison for Bantam Books, first published in 1958) and eight episodes of The Naked City (novelized by Charles Einstein for Dell, first published in 1959). One of the television episodes of Gunsmoke novelized by Don Ward, “Hot Spell,” was originally broadcast on September 17th, 1955 and may be the earliest television episode to be novelized. According to Peer, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that novelizations became popular.
Perhaps the most popular novelizations were those written by James Blish (and, after his death, by his wife Judith A. Lawrence) based on episodes of Star Trek. The first batch of novelizations were published in a January 1967 book titled Star Trek (later retitled Star Trek #1) while the show was still on the air. The book went through at least 25 printings (the 25th came out in January of 1977) and perhaps even more.
According to Peer, by the mid-to-late 1970s “most TV tie-ins were novelizations, as that’s where the trend had taken them. And they were beginning to glut the market, causing at times heavy losses for the publishers. It was becoming evident that the public was no longer interested in a quick rehashing of an episode, but wanted a fresher and more in depth look at a show” . This glut eventually led to the collapse of the TV tie-in novel during the 1980s, although both original stories and novelizations continued.
I’ve read a good number of novelizations over the years and enjoyed them, especially novelizations of episodes I haven’t seen. What are your thoughts on novelizations? Just as good as an original story or something of a waste of time if you’ve already seen the episode(s) being novelized? Are novelizations that vary greatly from the finished work more interesting than those that are nearly identical? And on a related note, excluding the various Star Trek shows, what’s the most recent TV tie-in novelization?