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.
When I relaunched this column in July 2013, I explained that I collect TV tie-in novels in part because “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.”
That was certainly the case for the novelization of Beacon Hill I reviewed last month. I really enjoyed that one and that’s another reason I love TV tie-in novels. Many of them are really good. A good tie-in novel can be thought of as an extra “episode” of a favorite TV series. Who wouldn’t want that?
I’ve mentioned before that my collection of TV tie-in novels numbers around 130 titles. I haven’t added to it much in the past few years. Most of the novels are from the 1960s and 1970s but there are a fair number from the 1980s. (I’m not counting the dozens of Star Trek novels or more recent TV tie-ins from the 1990s and 2000s.) I haven’t read all of them. I tend to shy away from novelizations of episodes I’ve never seen.
Kurt Speer lists some 1,400 TV tie-in novels published between the mid-1950s and the late 1980s in his book TV Tie-Ins: A Bibliography of American TV Tie-In Paperbacks (which I reviewed back in December 2009). So there are well over a thousand additional tie-ins I don’t own. There are only a few that I really want add to the collection eventually if I can find them for the right price.
I do plan on acquiring the three The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. novels only published in Britain. There’s a third Land of the Giants novel by Murray Leinster that I don’t own. And there are also two additional Lucas Tanner novels I don’t have, one novelization and one original story. All of these usually sell for more than I want to pay. I also just learned there’s a second Beacon Hill novelization and might try to track down a copy of that.
(There are also tie-in novels for two more recent shows I’ve always wanted to read: JAG and Due South. The JAG novels used to be relatively rare. I don’t believe the Due South novels were ever published in the United States.)
Then there are the tie-in novels for short-lived television shows that I don’t have. It’s remarkable how many short-lived TV shows received tie-in novels. Many I already own: The New People, Nancy, Captain Nice, The Americans, Hawk, and The Young Rebels, among others. There are also tie-ins for numerous short-lived shows I don’t yet have, like Nakia, My Friend Tony, The Associates, The Young Lawyers, Markham, The Rebel, The Roaring 20’s, Toma, Mr. Lucky, and The Ugliest Girl in Town.
Still, these 1,400 books are based on just 350 TV shows. There are thousands of other shows, both short-lived and wildly popular, that never received a single tie-in novel. That raises an interesting question, at least for me: are there any TV tie-in novels I wish had been written?
For obvious reasons, I tend to think about obscurities and short-lived TV shows first. It would be very interesting to read a novelization of DuMont’s 1946 soap opera Faraway Hill, for example. Or a tie-in novel based on pioneering sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny, which aired on multiple networks from 1948 to 1951. Janet Dean, Registered Nurse would have been perfect for a collection of short stories depicting interesting and unusual cases.
NBC’s 90 Bristol Court would have made for an interesting tie-in because the author would have been free to mix characters from all three sitcoms that made up the umbrella series (Karen, Harris Against the World, and Tom, Dick and Mary). The mystery of Coronet Blue could have been explored in more depth had any tie-ins been published.
The New People was fortunate enough to get one original novel but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to read more. The same goes for Nancy. It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see more than one episode of either show so additional tie-in novels would have been the next best thing.
Some of my favorite non-obscurities from the 1960s and 1970s do have tie-in novels, including Bonanza and The Waltons. I haven’t read any of the Bonanza tie-ins, which are all original stories, but they are out there if I ever get around to them. I have read one of The Waltons novelizations and I wish there were some original novels. Another favorite, The Dick Van Dyke Show, doesn’t have any tie-in novels but that’s probably for the best. I’m not sure the series would have translated well to the printed page.
One of my favorite shows that doesn’t have any tie-in novels is M*A*S*H. Yes, there were a dozen novels written by Richard Hooker and William E. Butterworth between 1975 and 1977 (most reportedly written solely by Butterworth) but they are all sequels to the original novel, not the CBS sitcom. I’ve always assumed the reason the TV series never got any original novels or episode novelizations was due to the existing novel series.
More recently, there are plenty of short-lived shows that I enjoyed watching and I’m sure I would have enjoyed reading any tie-in novels had they been published. I’ve always felt syndicated adventure series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1999-2002) would have been perfect for a series of original tie-in novels. The special effects for that show were not great and the freedom of the written word would have allowed authors to tell incredible stories not possible on television.
So what are some TV tie-in novels you wish existed? Hit the comments with your thoughts.