Shadowhunters is an upcoming ABC Family series based on the book series The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. The book and show’s plot follows Clary Fray, who finds out on her 18th birthday that she isn’t any normal human, but a Shadowhunter – a human-angel hybrid who hunts down demons – a fact hidden from her by her Shadowhunter mother.
This series is anticipated to be a more detailed and in-depth adaptation of the book series than the 2013 film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Shadowhunters producers hope to adapt the entire book series if the TV adaptation is successful. In that vein, Shadowhunters will base Season One on the first book in The Mortal Instruments series City of Bones.
In anticipation of this series, I’d like to offer up, in an exceptionally broad and ambiguous way, some unsolicited and completely biased ideas on what this show needs to do to succeed.
Adapting a book to a television show is a lot easier than a book to a movie because TV is a medium that affords much more time for character development and plot. When this series went to movie, that didn’t really happen. So don’t sacrifice the obvious pro of time in the show. Develop those characters. Show us that complex and interesting plot.
Trust the Material
This series, and all of Clare’s other series, became a YA phenomenon for a reason. Clare’s original contract called for three books. That’s it. She’s written three more for that series, as well as a prequel series, a sequel series, and a spinoff. That’s a lot of commercially successful material. It clearly reaches a large audience. An audience ABC Family has direct access to. This series was chosen twice for visual adaptation for a reason, even if that first attempt failed. Trust that source material to be enough of a draw for viewers to tune in.
“Why am I making this? Am I here just to present the book in a visual form? Or can I offer something more?” These should be the questions Shadowhunters creators started with. It should be the basis of this show’s development. If it’s just going to be another way to consume the same story, it won’t be a successful television show. It will be a successful puppet show. Just a visual representation of a story already told.
Book adaptations are incredibly hard to get “right.” Mostly because there is never a “right” way to do them. That leads to adaptations that are too faithful (boring) or not faithful enough (completely new stories) to the source material. Don’t let this get in the way. Staying faithful to the idea of the series, the themes and the meanings the books presented, will make this a successful adaptation. A successful adaptation isn’t a direct retelling of the events or a complete redoing. It’s an active engagement with the material already presented. One hour a week affords the creators not only time to ask “What do I want to emphasize?” but “How can I emphasize it through those same character relationships?”
Books offer insight into characters, where film adaptations give action. A television show can offer both. The only real piece of advice I can give really, is to always give the why. The source material is a separate entity and it should be treated that way. The success of this show should stand on its own, regardless of the expectations of original fans.
Make a show that is relevant. Make a show that offers a deeper analysis of the portrayed world and society. Make a show that gives characters depth. Don’t just make a show because a couple of books sold well.