From Page to Screen

The Who Was? Show, Inspired by Penguin Workshop’s New York Times Bestselling Who Was? Series, Debuts on Netflix Today

Every 11 seconds, a Who HQ book is sold somewhere in the world. Now Penguin Workshop’s wildly popular children’s biography series is coming to Netflix Kids & Family in The Who Was? Show, a laugh-out-loud original series that tells the stories of famous historical figures from across the globe through improv, sketches, impersonations, music videos and animated shorts in a show-within-a-show format that is as entertaining as it is educational.

[caption id="attachment_112711" align="alignright" width="180"] Francesco Sedita[/caption] Francesco Sedita, president and publisher of Penguin Workshop and an executive producer of the show, describes it as “The Muppets meets SNL meets You Can’t Do That on Television.” Sedita came up with the idea of creating a TV series based on the books, and even created a pilot episode. A few years ago, the Penguin Workshop team pitched it to potential partners at the Kidscreen conference, where it was picked up by Netflix.   The Who Was? Show pairs two unlike historical figures in each episode and imagines what might happen if someone like Marie Antoinette were to meet Louis Armstrong, or if Bruce Lee met Julius Caesar. The 13-episode series, premiering on Netflix today, May 11, features a diverse teenage cast and appearances by special guest stars including Ellie Kemper, H. Jon Benjamin, Jane Krakowski, John Oliver and Andy Daly, among others. The show is helmed and written by a comedy dream team whose credits include The Daily Show, Conan O’Brien, Great Minds with Dan Harmon, and Roseanne. The Who Was? book series, the brainchild of VP and Editor-at-Large Jane O’Connor, launched in 2002 with 4 titles. Since then, it has become one of the most popular series in children’s books, known for its instantly recognizable cover art, which features historical figures illustrated as bobbleheads. In recent years, Penguin Workshop has introduced two spinoff series, Where Is? and What Was?, and collectively, the three series are known as Who HQ. By the end of 2018, the series that began with just 4 books will have become a brand encompassing some 231 titles, with more than 35 million copies in print worldwide. For an inside look at how Who Was? went from page to screen, check out Publishers Weekly’s interview with Penguin Workshop’s Francesco Sedita and Jane O’Connor.

Riverhead’s DRAMA HIGH is the Book Behind NBC-TV’s “Rise” Series

Hailed as “this season’s hottest new TV show” is NBC’s Rise, based on Riverhead’s beloved book, DRAMA HIGH: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater  by Michael Sokolove. Critics and fans alike are raving over the silver screen adaptation of this true story of “a brilliant, demanding and subversive teacher who practices the best kind of magic – the kind that’s real and that changes lives” (USA Today).  

[caption id="attachment_10119" align="alignright" width="203"] Michael Sokolove © Michael Williamson[/caption] Created by Jason Katims (the man behind the TV series Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) and Jeffrey Seller (a producer of a little Broadway show called Hamilton), Sokolove’s incredible true story is imbedded in the heart of the show.  The story behind Rise began when Seller, making his first foray into series TV, read an excerpt from “DRAMA HIGH” in The New York Times Magazine in 2013. He bought the book.  It made him cry.  But the broadcast rights to the book had already been sold. A few years later, when Seller joined up with the veteran producer Flody Suarez (8 Simple Rules, The Tick), he learned that those rights were once again available. “I handed Flody the book and I said, ‘This is what I want to make into a TV show,’ Seller recalled.” (New York Times). Sokolove spoke to Entertainment Weekly about seeing his life adapted for television and why his story feels relevant: “[Nobody] who went to school was inspired by trying to get a standardized test score ... What [this story] shows so clearly is that education is still about passion and inspiration.” Rise airs Tuesday nights on NBC at 10:00 p.m. and is available on Hulu if you missed the March 13 premiere.  

Watch New Trailer for READY PLAYER ONE Movie

The countdown continues to March 29, when the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s #1 bestselling book READY PLAYER ONE (Broadway) will open in theaters nationwide. The world premiere was at this week’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, where Mr. Cline was a featured speaker.  Janet Pierson, director of film at SXSW, commented, “The film brings to the screen a story that has captivated millions of readers around the globe, written by Austin’s very own Ernest Cline.”  To help further ratchet up fan enthusiasm, Warner Bros. Pictures has debuted a new READY PLAYER ONE “Dreamer” trailer: “Save the Oasis. Save the world.”

Watch the new trailer:


Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ New York Times bestseller THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, a book club favorite since it was first published by The Dial Press in 2008, has now been adapted for the screen by the production company Blue Print (producers of the Oscar and Golden Globe award-winning film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) in partnership with Studiocanal and The Mazur Kaplan Company. Netflix acquired the rights to air the film in North America, Latin America, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Studiocanal will release it theatrically in Australia, France, and Germany.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society stars Lily James, best known for her role in the acclaimed PBS series, Downton Abbey. Directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and filmed in the U.K., the story follows a free-spirited writer, Juliet Ashton, played by Ms. James.  She forms a life-changing bond with the titular Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society when she decides to write about the book club, which was formed during the occupation of the small island of Guernsey in World War II. Ms. James’ co-stars include two other Downton Abbey actors, Matthew Goode and Jessica Brown Findlay, as well as Katherine Parkinson (The Boat That Rocked), Tom Courtenay (Doctor Zhivago), and Penelope Wilton (The BFG).

Watch the Trailer for TV Adaptation of THE LOOMING TOWER, Hulu Original Series Debuts Tonight

Lawrence Wright’s THE LOOMING TOWER: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf/Vintage), which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, has been adapted into a 10-episode Hulu original series and debuts tonight.  Starring Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, Alec Baldwin and Tahar Rahim, the gripping narrative spans five decades, powerfully illuminating the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the 9/11 attacks. 

In THE LOOMING TOWER – Vintage published an updated tie-in edition on February 2 – Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Wright developed the TV adaptation of THE LOOMING TOWER with screenwriter Dan Futterman, whose Hollywood scripts include Capote and Foxcatcher, and filmmaker Alex Gibney, who directed an HBO documentary based Wright’s 2013 book, GOING CLEAR: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief (Vintage).  Futterman, Gibney and Wright are the series’ executive producers, while Futterman served as showrunner and Gibney directed multiple episodes. Among the advance media raves for THE LOOMING TOWER:
  • “The series is superbly acted by Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, and a host of others. It's so good that often the audience will find it easy to forget much of the real events have been amped up for the sake of drama.” -- Forbes
  • The Looming Tower is the first great new TV series of 2018.” --/Film
  • “... instantly absorbing...” --The Washington Post
  Watch THE LOOMING TOWER trailer:
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Watch the New Netflix Adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON

The cinematic scope of Richard K. Morgan’s genre-bending science fiction book, ALTERED CARBON (Del Rey), made it a natural for screen adaptation.  Now streaming exclusively on Netflix, this ten-episode series takes place more than 350 years into the future, when humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N.  While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”) making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.  

Brought back to life after 250 years by Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), the richest man on Earth, ex-Envoy soldier Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman / Will Yun Lee) must solve Bancroft's attempted murder for the chance to live again in a world he doesn't recognize. In 2003, ALTERED CARBON won the Philip K. Dick Award, was a New York Times notable book, and made that year's Best lists for The New York Times, Library Journal, and Locus Magazine, among others. There are also two more books in the series that take place after ALTERED CARBON: BROKEN ANGELS and WOKEN FURIES. Morgan’s next standalone novel, THIN AIR, will be released on July 31. Watch the ALTERED CARBON Netflix series trailer:

Watch New READY PLAYER ONE Featurette and Trailer

A new featurette and trailer for the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s bestselling book READY PLAYER ONE (Broadway) are now out in the world.  The very cool featurette is narrated by Spielberg and Cline. 

They provide fascinating insights into their collaborative process and the inspiration that drove the creation of this eagerly-awaited movie – coming from Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures to theaters nationwide on March 29, 2018.   Watch the READY PLAYER ONE featurette and trailer:

Watch Trailer for THE ALIENIST TV Adaptation, Premiering Tonight on TNT

The wait is over at last for a filmed adaptation of the classic historical thriller, THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr. Tonight, at 9:00 pm (ET/PT), TNT Network premieres the first episode of the much-anticipated mini-series based on the multi-million-copy selling novel.  

When THE ALIENIST was first published by Random House in 1994, the book was a major phenomenon, spending six months on the New York Times bestseller list.  Fast-paced and riveting, infused with historical detail, this twisty tale conjures up Gilded Age Manhattan with its tenements and mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills.  It is an era in which questioning society’s belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and fatal consequences.  Set in 1896 New York, amidst a backdrop of vast wealth, extreme poverty and technological innovation, this psychological thriller stars Daniel Brühl (Rush), Luke Evans (The Girl on The Train), Dakota Fanning (American Pastoral) and Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker) and was directed by Jakob Verbruggen. Turner Broadcasting is enormously proud of this programming, not only the most expensive filmed series in the history of the network, but also its most heavily promoted—which should bode well for Random House, which has 270,000 copies in print of the original and TV tie-in paperback edition. Watch THE ALIENIST Series Trailer:

Showtime Picks Up TV Series Based on World of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle

From page to screen: Showtime is developing a television series based on #1 New York Times-bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicle, published by DAW.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton (based on Ron Chernow’s book, ALEXANDER HAMILTON) will executive produce and also compose music for the series, which is being produced by Lionsgate. 

[caption id="attachment_8517" align="alignright" width="300"] Lin-Manuel Miranda
CREDIT: REX/Shutterstock[/caption] Miranda told Deadline: “Showtime has always championed bold storytelling.  Pat Rothfuss’ ‘Kingkiller’ series is some of the most exciting storytelling I have ever read. I could not be more thrilled to help bring the sights and sounds of his wondrous world of Temerant to the screen.” The Kingkiller Chronicle series of books and novellas incudes THE NAME OF THE WIND, THE WISE MAN’S FEAR and THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS — and have sold [caption id="attachment_8518" align="alignleft" width="300"] Patrick Rothfuss[/caption] 10 million copies.  The Showtime series will be set a generation before the events of THE NAME OF THE WIND, the first novel in The Kingkiller Chronicle. The series showrunner and executive producer John Rogers previously created and executive produced such TV series as Leverage, The Librarians, and The Player. His feature film credits include Transformers, The Core and American Outlaws. An in-depth profile of Rothfuss was recently featured in New York magazine and on Read it here.      

Read Our Books Starring in New Fall TV, Streaming Series and Films

This year’s fall television and streaming season is upon us, with a number of new shows, series and films based on books published by Penguin Random House imprints, as well as two new books of ours based on the programming itself. The following viewers and readers guide shines the spotlight on this diverse selection:

“THE VIETNAM WAR” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour PBS-TV documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been fully presented on film. THE VIETNAM WAR: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns is the expansive, richly illustrated Knopf book based on the series. Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. The book, which serves as a companion to the series, plunges us into the chaos and intensity of combat, even as it explains the rationale that got us into Vietnam and kept us there for so many years. Rather than taking sides, the book and series seek to understand why the war happened the way it did, and to clarify its complicated legacy. Airing throughout September on PBS television stations, the series is also streaming on PBS apps.   “OUTLANDER” The third season of the highly-rated Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s multi-million-bestselling Outlander series focuses primarily on the third book in the series, VOYAGER (Dell), continuing the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. Two decades before, Claire had traveled back in time and into the arms of Jamie, a gallant eighteenth-century Scot. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her. When Claire discovers that Jamie has survived, she is torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era. The third season premiered on Starz September 10, with new episodes airing weekly into the fall.   “OUR SOULS AT NIGHT” The Netflix adaptation of Ken Haruf’s novel, OUR SOULS AT NIGHT (Knopf/Vintage), reunites Oscar-winners Robert Redford and Jane Fonda for the fourth time. Addie (Fonda) and Louis (Redford), long-widowed, empty nesters, come to know each other better and discover a second chance at love in the small community of Holt, Colorado. The film, which has received positive reviews, is also enjoying a concurrent brief run in select theaters. Premieres on Netflix, September 29   “LORE” Aaron Mahnke’s THE WORLD OF LORE: Monstrous Creatures (Del Rey) is the basis for a new Amazon horror anthology. Spread across six episodes, the series explores the disturbing history behind a number of horror-tinged myths. In his book, Mahnke, the host of the hit podcast Lore, serves as a guide on a fascinating journey through the history of terrifying creatures. In a world of “emotional vampires” and “zombie malls,” the monsters of folklore have become both a part of our language and a part of our collective psyche. Of note, Mahnke invites readers to the desolate Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where the notorious winged, red-eyed Jersey Devil dwells. Premieres on Amazon Prime, October 13   “JOAN DIDION: The Center Will Not Hold” joandidion Across more than fifty years of essays, novels, and criticism, Joan Didion has chronicled the changing tides of American culture and politics – often in deeply personal ways. This upcoming documentary, JOAN DIDION: The Center Will Not Hold, directed by Didion’s nephew Griffin Dunne, is primarily based on SOUTH AND WEST: From a Notebook (Knopf), in which Didion presents excerpts from two notebooks. In one, she traces a road trip she took with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies' brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters' Convention. A different notebook, the "California Notes," began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Dunne’s documentary, which debuts next month as part of the New York Film Festival, intersperses archival footage alongside his interviews with his Aunt Joan, delving into her extraordinary body of work and its impact on our cultural landscape. Of note: footage of Didion partying with Janis Joplin in a house full of L.A. rockers in the ‘60s; hanging out in a recording studio with Jim Morrison of The Doors; and cooking dinner for one of Charles Manson’s followers for a magazine story. Debuts at The New York Film Festival, with screenings on October 11, 12 and 14; and then premieres on Netflix, October 27   “ALIAS GRACE” On the heels of the success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwoods novel of the same name and winner of six Emmy Awards, our author’s work is a hot property in Hollywood. Expectations are high for Alias Grace, an adaptation Atwood’s ALIAS GRACE: A Novel (Anchor). In the book, it is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Produced by Netflix and Canada’s CBC, the six-part series will tell the story of Marks and delves deeply into this twisty tale. Premieres on Netflix, November 3   “THE LONG ROAD HOME” Based on ABC News reporter and author Martha Raddatz’s searing nonfiction book, THE LONG ROAD HOME: A Story of War and Family (Berkley), this National Geographic series recounts, across eight episodes, the harrowing story of The First Cavalry Division, which suffered a surprise attack on the streets of Sadr City, a district of Baghdad, on April 4, 2004. The series, like the book, will chronicle the events of the attack through the eyes of the soldiers who lived it. Premieres on the National Geographic Channel, November 7   “THE CROWN” Season two of Netflix’s critically acclaimed and Emmy Award-winning series, The Crown, is expected to wade into darker territory. There will be more emphasis on the complexities of Elizabeth’s (Claire Foy) marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) while also delving into Philip’s backstory – one that is both extraordinary and tragic. THE CROWN: The Official Companion, Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen (1947-1955) (Crown Archetype) was written by the show’s historical consultant and royal biographer, Robert Lacey. The book is filled with beautifully reproduced archival photos and show stills, adding expert and in-depth detail to the events of the series, painting an intimate portrait of life inside Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. A wonderful holiday gift for THE CROWN fan in your life. Premieres on Netflix, December 8