On the eve of a new miniseries adaptation of The Stand, Stephen King spoke with the New York Times about Stephen King TV shows. There have been quite a few! As you might expect, his reactions to those shows are all over the map, from pride and affection to outright disdain. That’s totally understandable—not all adaptations are created equal, and some books are better suited to adaptation than others. If an author as prolific as King saw literally all his work go on to massive success on television, that would be weird and unsettling (and maybe a good premise of a novel? All yours if you want it, Sai King). So this is a very interesting read.
But it did remind us of a certain tweet in King’s lengthy tweet history:
So here’s Stephen King on Stephen King TV, and also The A.V. Club on Stephen King TV. Just for comparison.
King: “I liked that series a lot, and I thought Tim Curry made a great Pennywise […] It scared the [expletive] out of a lot of kids at that time.”
The A.V. Club: “Tim Curry’s Pennywise remains iconic after all these years because the actor captured the warped sadistic spirit of the supernatural clown. He could be genuinely goofy and playful, in a manner that actually went some way toward showing why kids fell for the act—which is what made his heel-turns to menacing and saw-toothed so much more disturbing. In addition to successfully evoking the nostalgic hue of the ’50s-set portion of the novel, this adaptation remains a source of nightmares for every former kid that happily tuned in to be scared shitless.” [Alex McLevy]
The Tommyknockers (1993)
King: “I didn’t like it; I didn’t care for it at all.” He also said that Jimmy Smits “had to give a bunch of pretentious, portentous lines and that the miniseries “felt kind of cheap and thrown together […] like they missed the sense of the book.” (As a bonus, as the Times points out, he called the novel “an awful book.”)
The A.V. Club: Okay, so we couldn’t find any rapturous praise for this one in our history, but it sure seems like we’re more optimistic about the future of The Tommyknockers than King is. Here’s William Hughes on the news that Universal scooped up the rights to a James Wan adaptation of the novel:
But hey, maybe we’re just being cynics; given how wide the quality of King’s various adaptations has varied over the years, we just have to accept that there’s no good way to predict which of these projects will work. Wan is reportedly lined up to both produce and direct […] And it’s not like 25 years of improving special effects won’t make that murderous Coke machine look pretty awesome when it finally shows up.
The Stand (1994)
King: “Mick [Garris, with whom King has teamed on Sleepwalkers and other projects] directed everything, and I wrote everything, so there was never any sense of unevenness in the way they worked — it had one single style all the way through it […] Mick loved the book and was dedicated to the idea that we would just do the book, which is what we did. ABC spent a lot of money on it.”
The A.V. Club: Okay, so we’re admittedly much cooler on this one than King. Here’s Emily L. Stephens:
In his first mystical vision, Nick Andros finds himself wandering a cornfield, hearing the faint patter and rustle as rain falls on corn stalks. Instead of trusting the audience to feel the power of this quiet moment, the script has [Rob] Lowe bellow out “I CAN HEAR! I CAN TALK!” Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo), doomed to The Dark Man’s embrace, is drawn to her fate not by inklings of mingled desire and destiny but by Flagg popping up to yell at her or to smear her walls with instructions written in blood. As if it can’t muster confidence in its central villain’s dread horrors, The Stand doggedly shows Flagg in his various and unconvincing demon incarnations, giving the sense that they’re determined to wring their money’s worth from those latex masks and makeup.
But hey, we agree, ABC spent a lot of money on it!
The Langoliers (1995)
King: We’ll quote from the Times directly here:
“They came up to Bangor to actually film that [… ]I liked it because it brought money into the town, and I liked the screenplay. I can’t remember if I wrote that or not. Did I?”
It was in fact written by Tom Holland, who also directed. “Well, I did act in it,” King said. He appears, briefly, as a sneering business executive in a dream sequence on an airport tarmac.
The A.V. Club: While there’s a chance we missed something, we can’t find any extensive coverage of this economic boost to Bangor on our site. But given how faint King’s praise is, we don’t feel bad including this mention of The Langoliers in the context of a sinkhole discovered in Microsoft Flight Simulator:
The Langoliers—a story about a bunch of people in a vacant airport stuck between realities and getting devoured by meatball-like time monsters—isn’t exactly known as one of the better Stephen King adaptations. But hell, that hasn’t stopped anyone in the past from attempting yet another big-screen version of one of King’s lesser-regarded works. Could the Microsoft Flight Simulator mystery be an ineffective, if admittedly creative, attempt at building hype for a new Langoliers starring—okay, let’s see here, who hasn’t been in a Stephen King movie yet—Ryan Reynolds?
The Shining (1997)
King: The entry on this one is mostly about the Kubrick film, actually. But King does say this about the miniseries, which he likes more than the movie he famously dislikes:
King said that Steven Weber, the star of the ABC series, better grasped the character [in comparison to Jack Nicholson]. “He knew what he was supposed to be doing: He was supposed to express love for his family, and that the hotel just gradually overwhelms his moral sense and his love for his family.”
King also praised Rebecca De Mornay’s performance as Wendy Torrance, which she “plays the way she’s written in the book,” as “the real reason I love that mini-series.”
The A.V. Club: “The TV version of The Shining has a bad reputation, deservedly, though that overlooks how close it is to being quite good. Change just a couple of things—and granted, they’re major things—and you’d have a satisfying and textured ghost story. That’s a testament to how strong King’s original book remains. Even in watered-down form, the story works.” [Ryan Vlastelica]
But wait, there’s another opinion here:
Steven Weber: “You also have to understand that at the time, we were still making TV movies. The graphics were in their infancy. Production, they tried to animate a main element in the original shining story: the topiaries in the hotel garden that come to life in these animal-shaped bushes. So when they did that in the show, it looked like an old Davey And Goliath cartoon, Claymation. It wasn’t so hot, and it tended to distract.” [From a Random Roles interview with Ashley Ray-Harris.]
Storm Of The Century (1999)
King: This one is an original miniseries King write for NBC. “That is my absolute favorite of all of them […] I loved Colm Feore as Linoge, and I loved the story,” King said. “They filmed it in Southwest Harbor in Maine in the wintertime and they got the snow, so you get the sense of this awesome blizzard and the people trapped in it. They did a terrific job.”
The A.V. Club: “Craig R. Baxley’s stylish direction, some fine ensemble acting from Timothy Daly and others (including teen dream Jeremy Jordan), and especially Feore’s chilly performance keep things generally interesting. As a villain, Feore’s character seems (at times too much) like a cross between Hannibal Lecter and the demon from The Exorcist, but by the time Storm arrives at its conclusion, it’s become clear that King is going less for shocks than a Twilight Zone-style morality play in supernatural form.” That’s from Keith Phipps, whose biggest strike against Storm Of The Century is that it’s the length of a miniseries and not a movie. But it’s a miniseries, so.
Rose Red (1999)
King: “I wasn’t delighted with the way it turned out […] Some of the acting was a bit… well, maybe it was the writing.”
The A.V. Club: We enthusiastically asked Jimmi Simpson about it in this Random Roles, and used an exclamation point and everything.
Under The Dome (2013)
King: “[I]t went off the rails [and] descended into complete mediocrity […] It was a sad thing, but it didn’t bother me. I stopped watching after a while because I just didn’t give a [expletive].”
The A.V. Club: We did recaps of this one, so there’s a lot of up and down, but since King said it “descended into complete mediocrity,” let’s look at the finale with Scott Von Doviak:
Those of us who stuck with it to the end will miss it a little, won’t we? Not in the same way we’ll miss other beloved favorites that expired this year like Mad Men and Justified, but as a delivery system for weapons-grade nonsense, Under The Dome has had few competitors. (Gotham, maybe.) So on this final night of dome, let’s remember the good times: Deputy Dumbass being crushed to death when the dome turned into a giant magnet. Sheriff DJ Phil thinking he’s jumping to freedom and instead impaling himself on a stalagmite. Big Jim killing several dozen people but still finding a dog who loves him. Those terrible, terrible paintings. Skater Dude and Norrie’s dead mommies and Natalie Zea’s fight club and that time Mare Winningham lived out on the island but drowned after two episodes. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed every minute, but spending these past three seasons with you has been my pleasure.
Mr. Mercedes (2017)
King: “It was like we brought a stadium show to a coffee shop… I liked it a lot, but nobody saw it.”
Castle Rock (2017)
King: “The people involved were big fans of those books, and I liked what they did quite a lot […] In the second season, they really got their feet under them,” he said. “I would have liked to have seen it go on and grow a little bit.”
The A.V. Club: As with all shows we recap, our response was neither uniformly positive nor consistently negative, but Emily L. Stephens was mostly into it. Here she is on “The Queen,” an undeniably excellent hour of television:
Watching Ruth Deaver navigate the confusing spaces and temporal shifts of her daily life, and watching Sissy Spacek perform that delicate balance of confusion and coping, is more effective than any lecture about quantum probabilities could ever be. It is not just a frightening metaphor for the loss of coherence; it’s an ouroboros of love and loss, with Alan called back to Ruth’s side by the very gunshots that will kill him, with Ruth carefully washing her true love’s blood from her hands and body, then opening the door to welcome him back to her arms. And all the while, she knows that she’ll live through these moments again and again, in every possible order.
King: Not even mentioned! Ouch. Neither were a few other shows, but Sarah Gadon did not break our hearts into a million pieces for us to allow this Hulu series to be overlooked.
The A.V. Club: Gwen Ihnat called it “an excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s original novel” and said that the “eight-part series is the perfect format for diving into such a complicated and enveloping plot,” while in her finale recap, Allison Shoemaker said it “has quite a knack for hitting you hard when you least expect it” and that “it’s a show that soars when it focuses on what things feel like, rather than what they are.”
So, Sai King, tell us: who’s harsh now?!
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