TV times a'changing

<p>For most people, the words &quot;BBC literary adaptation&quot; conjure up images of Colin Firth emerging from a lake in &quot;Pride and Prejudice&quot; or Dame Judi Dench bonneted in &#8232;&quot;Cranford&quot;. Beautifully detailed period dramas, with &#8232;subtle, emotional plots spooled out over many episodes.</p>
<p>They also tend to enrapture the white middle classes&mdash;but do less to speak to poorer licence fee payers, or immigrants of any class whose ancestry comes from anywhere other than Britain.</p>
<p>But all that is changing. The BBC is faced with increasing pressure on its income (last week, the Digital Britain White Paper called for some of the licence fee to be channelled into public service output on other broadcasters) and there is an urgent political need to prove it can be relevant to all audiences.</p>
<p>Inevitably, it is looking for a new sort of book to adapt. Enter Mma Ramotswe, whose The No.1 Ladies &#8232;Detective Agency is peopled by a different sort of cast, or steadfastly modern dramas like &quot;Criminal Justice&quot; and &quot;Five Days&quot;. Admittedly, the last two are not books, but they do encapsulate what the BBC is looking for now: &#8232;contemporary, plot-driven stories that can also hold a mirror up to society and that stir public debate about issues other than Firth's lake scene. </p>
<p>The other thing these dramas have in common is the potential to become a franchise: multiple series, spin-offs, all based on a single concept or characters but who may have little in common with the original work.</p>
<p>In book terms, that means genre novels. Last month, BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow specifically called on drama producers to &quot;cast a bit wider&quot; than the usual finely-wrought Man Booker-prize candidates that she is often pitched, for pacy, page-turning thrillers. She is hunting for something to rival John le Carr&eacute;'s George Smiley novels which were adapted by the Beeb 30 years ago, or (though the BBC would never say this) ITV's Sunday night classics like &quot;Morse&quot; and &quot;Midsomer Murders&quot;.</p>
<p>With ITV withdrawing from drama on the scale that it has, goodness knows there's room for it. Nonetheless, it was a surprising move from Hadlow who, as the author of a forthcoming HarperCollins book on King George III, is one of TV's most cerebral bibliophiles.</p>
<p>Or was it? Whereas many literary adaptations whittle down a complex story to its most important moments, genre novels can be a springboard for more complex and socially-relevant narratives.</p>
<p>&quot;These are books where TV actually adds rather than takes away,&quot; she says. And she hasn't even started &#8232;talking about the book sales.<br />
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