One of the biggest complaints that most fans make regarding the adaptation of one of Stephen King’s books is that the running time for most movies doesn’t allow for the full story to be told. Often, key story elements and characters are sacrificed or combined for the sake of time and budget. In 1979, CBS aired the first mini-series based on a Stephen King novel. Salem’s Lot ran over two nights in 1979 and was directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre master Tobe Hooper. Even though it received positive reviews, there would not be another King mini-series for another decade and that mini-series is the first on my list.
It originally aired from November 18-20, 1990 on ABC. Adapted from the 1986 novel by Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie) and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part II), the mini-series featured an all-star cast of actors including John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Reid and Annette O’Toole. But it was Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise that both delighted and scared viewers. His portrayal was equal parts charming and menacing. The production worked in keeping true to the overall spirit of the original novel, minus some of the aspects that network television would find questionable. Overall, it was a great, scary series that still holds up for the most part because of the performances.
The Stand (1994)
The Stand remains one of Stephen King’s most popular novels to this day. The story of the survivors of an apocalyptic plague and their struggle to overcome the schemes of the demon Randall Flagg and his followers has been read by millions over the years. So it came as no surprise that an adaptation of the epic story would be coming. After years of attempts to bring it to the big screen, ABC decided to bring in director Mick Garris, who had previously directed another Stephen King screenplay Sleepwalkers to helm the four-part miniseries event starring Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.
While there were huge chunks of the book that were missing and a groan inducing final special effect at the end of the series, the screenplay by King does hit on all the overall themes of the book and really allows the characters to shine through.
The Shining (1997)
Although the Stanley Kubrick adaptation from 1980 is still considered a classic horror film, many people (myself included) are not fans of Jack Nicholson’s performance. The book is about a genuinely good man’s slow descent into madness. Jack Torrance is constantly struggling with his personal demons which are amplified by his time in the Overlook. Nicholson seemed like a crazy guy who was allowed to be more crazy in the Kubrick version. The miniseries, which aired on ABC in 1997 allowed for the story to be told in the way it was intended. King himself wrote the screenplay to silence critics who hounded him about his dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film. It is probably one of the most faithful adaptations of a King novel put on-screen.
Rose Red (2002)
The reason why I titled this “Five Best Stephen King Television Miniseries” and not adaptations is because this next entry is an original miniseries written for television. This new take on the haunted house story aired on ABC over three nights in 2002. It centered on a fictional Seattle mansion called Rose Red. A fixture in the city’s history, the mansion has been the site of numerous deaths and disappearances. It’s history is so unique that it attracts the attention of parapsychologist Dr. Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis). Teaming up with the last surviving heir to the Rimbauer family and a group of psychics, the miniseries tells the engaging history of both the house and its inhabitants, but also a look at the politics of the time as well as chronicling Reardon’s obsession with the house itself.
Bag of Bones (2011)
This two-part miniseries aired on A&E in 2011. It stars Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye) as Mike Noonan, a writer who is trying to get over the tragic death of his wife. During his grief, he is haunted by a series of dreams of the couple’s summer home on Dark Score Lake in Maine. As a way of trying to find some peace, he moves to the lake house and befriends a young single mother and her daughter. His friendship draws the ire of the young woman’s father in law, who is angry at her for shooting his son Lance in self-defense (Lance was trying to drown his six-year-old daughter). As Mike becomes more entangled in the lives and affairs of the people of Dark Score Lake, he learns the history of the town, his connection to it and the haunting, tragic story of Sara Tidwell, a singer from the 1930’s whose life and death are connected to the people of the town. A connection that brings tragedy to everyone.
While there are many other miniseries that I enjoy, including 11.22.63 on Hulu, these hold a special place in my memory as a Stephen King fan. Each one is a unique adaptation that had moments that kept me engaged to the very end.
Let me know what you think. What are some of your favorite Stephen King miniseries? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email with your favorites.