Bookshelf: Why I Love TV Tie-In Novels

Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.

Between February 2009 and September 2010, I reviewed more than 70 TV tie-in novels, tie-in comics and non-fiction works relating to television as part of a weekly feature called Bookshelf. I can’t remember now why I decided to start reviewing books but it proved quite popular. I’ve decided to resurrect it as a monthly column to be published on the second Thursday of each month. I’ll be reviewing more tie-in novels, of course, as well as some really interesting TV magazines from the late 1940s/early 1950s.

Reading about television is by no means a replacement for watching television but sometimes there’s nothing available to watch, so reading is all there is. That’s particularly true about television during the 1940s. Articles in The New York Times, for example, provide general background on the state of television in the early 1940s and occasional reviews offer limited insight into what programming was like.

I thought I’d use this first column to discuss why I’m such a big fan of TV tie-in novels. For short-lived television shows that aren’t easily accessible, like The New People or Nancy, tie-in novels are a way to get an idea of what the show was like, even if the novels don’t necessarily reflect the tone of the series. Some tie-ins actually differ quite a lot from the shows they’re based on, even going as far as to add new characters created by the author that never appeared on television.

For both short-lived and long-running shows, tie-in novels also mean extra “episodes” to enjoy. Love The Man from U.N.C.L.E. but you’ve seen all 105 episodes countless times? Lucky for you there are 23 tie-in novels you can look into buying and reading. I can still remember being on vacation in the late 1990s and stumbling upon a tie-in novel to NBC’s 1994-1995 science-fiction series Earth 2 (a personal favorite). I was thrilled to have a chance to revisit the series, which at the time wasn’t available on home video. So imagine how happy I was to later discover there were actually two original tie-in novels plus a novelization. Some publishing executive apparently thought Earth 2 would be a big hit.

I actually began collecting tie-in novels years earlier, after my father gave me a number of tie-ins he had purchased in the 1960s, based on The Addams Family, Mission: Impossible, Captain Nice, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and The Time Tunnel. I’ve found old tie-in novels in used book stores in a number of states. eBay has been a terrific resource, as has Amazon.

My collection includes more than 130 novels (not counting duplicates or another 75+ Star Trek novels). Two-thirds of them date prior to 1980, the earliest of which is Donald Honig’s novel based on NBC’s The Americans, published in June 1961 by Popular Library. I reviewed that particular novel in August 2010. The most recent tie-in I have is probably a 2006 novel based on Bones, the FOX crime drama that debuted during the 2005-2006 season.

I’ve probably only read about half of the tie-in novels I own. I don’t really enjoy novelizations for the most part so I tend not to read those, especially if I haven’t seen the telefilm or episode(s) they’re based on. There are a few tie-ins I’m still looking to add to my collection, chief among them are the three The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. novels published in the United Kingdom but not here in the United States.

Future columns will include reviews of The New People tie-in novel, one of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. digest magazines and the first issue of Telecast magazine from 1949.


5 Comments

  • Do TV Tie-In novels have a place in the history of fan fiction? I know they weren’t/aren’t written by fans, and I’m guessing a lot of them don’t have the romantic Mary Sue element that authentic fan fiction often has. But now there are a lot of books being written building on established/iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy. How different is that from what goes on with TV Tie-ins? And what about the Richard Castle novels? Tie-in or something entirely different?

    • Robert says:

      I think there’s certainly an argument to be made that early official Star Trek tie-in novels were heavily influenced by fans and fan fiction. There were even a pair of authorized Star Trek short story collections published in the 1970s featuring stories written by fans.

      It is possible if not likely that most TV tie-in authors are fans of the shows they’re writing novels for (although in decades past it may have been considered simply another assignment for writers). But there’s a big difference between professional TV tie-ins and fan fiction.

      I am not sure what to call “fictional” works from TV shows, like the Richard Castle novels, that wind up being published in real life.

      • DuMont says:

        One other fictional spinoff from a TV series would be all the published stuff that came out in association with ‘Twin Peaks’ such as “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”, “Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town” and “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes”. All three were actually well-structured, well-written books that existed outside of the tv series but fully within the storyline canon.

  • Percy Dovetonsils says:

    Not so familiar with TV tie-ins, but have always been fascinated with the huge number of movie novelizations that came out in the 60’s/70’s, everything from ‘Orgy Of The Dead’ to ‘Return Of Sabata’.

  • Benzadmiral says:

    How about a tie-in novel for “The Fugitive” with David Janssen? The scripts for those were very well done, and each stood alone; there was no real story arc beyond Kimble’s hunt for The One-Armed Man. A standalone story would have made sense. Or were there such novels?

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