There have been plenty of beloved adaptations of Stephen King's writing. "The Shining," "Stand By Me," "Shawshank Redemption," "Misery" and "Carrie" are just a few of the acclaimed movies based on his books and stories. These titles have something else in common too. King had nothing to do with their transition from page to screen.
When you look at the movies he did have a hand in, things look a bit different. He directed the much-derided "Maximum Overdrive" and produced the short-lived series "Kingdom Hospital." He personally wrote the screenplays for "Pet Sematary" and "Silver Bullet."
If King's name is attached to an adaption, it's usually the kiss of death.
That may be changing with the James Franco-led limited series "11.22.63." King executive-produced the show, which airs on Hulu in February. Based on a preview of the first two episodes, which premiered at Sundance, the show seems to blend the unexpected twists, cinematic quality and breathless action that make today's television impossibly addictive. It also doesn't hurt that the story revolves around one of history's most rehashed mysteries: the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In truth, King may not care whether the show is a success. He famously disliked Stanley Kubrick's take on "The Shining," but he insists that it doesn't get to him. In 2014, he told Rolling Stone, "The movies have never been a big deal to me. The movies are the movies. They just make them. If they're good, that's terrific. If they're not, they're not. But I see them as a lesser medium than fiction, than literature, and a more ephemeral medium."
Whether he cares or not, the show has a good chance at finding an audience. Franco stars as Jake, a modern-day English teacher who stumbles upon a time-travel portal capable of transporting him to 1960. Jake's friend Al (Chris Cooper) first discovered the portal and was secretly obsessed for years with traveling back in time to stop Kennedy's assassination. He was certain the world would be a better place had Kennedy survived. But given his recent cancer diagnosis, Al urges Jake to finish the job.
What follows is a historical sci-fi adventure featuring creepy characters who show up to warn Jake, "You don't belong here" — along with deadly gangsters, Russian spies, CIA operatives and a lot of great mid-century design.
Casting Franco as the lead is a little risky. He has only a slightly better track record than King, given that, for every "127 Hours," he seems to have a handful of overwrought Faulkner adaptations. And people have very strong feelings about the one-time Oscar co-host. But the story and action here is solid enough to allow Franco detractors to overlook the actor at the center of the series. And the show gets a big boost from some other talent: Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald directed the first two episodes; Bridget Carpenter, the writer-producer of "Friday Night Lights," served as showrunner; and J.J. Abrams was a producer.