Last week I wrote wrote about a few read-alikes for popular television shows, but didn’t mention any series that were originally based on true stories. Memoirs, biographies, and historical non-fiction books that provide inspiration for television shows often contain interesting insights that aren’t emphasized on screen, and offer a less sensationalized look into complex and nuanced worlds.
Netflix’s popular series, Orange is the New Black, is loosely based on an autobiography by Piper Kerman titled Orange is the New Black: My year in a Women’s Prison. There are some biographical details that Piper Kerman, the author shares with Piper Chapman, the character - but the book is a much more introspective look at the sense of community between incarcerated women, and reveals many of the tragic consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing in the United States.
The creators of HBO’s BoardwalkEmpire also found their inspiration in a non-fiction book of the same name. Nelson Johnson’s book, Boardwalk Empire was a painstakingly researched account of the businessmen and thugs who built Atlantic City into a gambling mecca in the 1930s. The creators of the show have gone on record to say that they fictionalized many of the real-life characters written about in the book so that fans of the show wouldn’t accidentally find historical information that would “spoil” what happened to their favourite characters.
Showtime’s Masters of Sex is based on Thomas Maier’s book, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Maier used interviews with both Masters and Johnson to learn more about the unusual research methods used by the pair to understand sexual behaviour in humans for the very first time. “Highlighting interviews with the notoriously private Masters and the ambitious Johnson, critically acclaimed biographer Thomas Maier shows how this unusual team changed the way we all thought about, talked about, and engaged in sex while they simultaneously tried to make sense of their own relationship. Entertaining, revealing, and beautifully told, Masters of Sex sheds light on the eternal mysteries of desire, intimacy, and the American psyche.” Publisher.
BBC’s Call the Midwife is the somewhat unlikely hit show inspired by Jennifer Worth's trilogy of memoirs of the same name, based on her experience of being a midwife in 1950s London. “Jennifer Worth came from a sheltered background when she became a midwife in the Docklands in the 1950s. The conditions in which many women gave birth just half a century ago were horrifying, not only because of their grimly impoverished surroundings, but also because of what they were expected to endure. Funny, disturbing and incredibly moving, Jennifer's stories bring to life the colourful world of the East End in the 1950s.” Publisher.