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Translating Stephen King’s The Stand to Quality TV

Translating Stephen King’s The Stand to Quality TV Abstract Released in 1978 and updated in 1990, the post-apocalyptic epic fantasy novel The Stand remains one of author Stephen King’s most significant works. The Stand tells a quasi-religious story of good and evil after the USA is devastated by a potent strain of influenza known as ‘Captain Trips’. Two camps of survivors emerge, one under the benevolent direction of an old woman named Mother Abigail, and the other lorded over by a devilish Tyrant named Randall Flagg. Like so much of King’s writing, it has been adapted to screen. It was first adapted into a four-part broadcast television miniseries event for broadcast network ABC in 1994. The Stand was adapted to television once again in 2020, this time as a limited series (nine episodes) for subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access). This article uses these two adaptations of The Stand to examine the similarities and differences between two eras of US ‘quality’ television. ‘Quality TV’ describes a broad range of TV series, linked by their intention to be received as prestigious and therefore culturally valuable. By comparing two adaptations of the same original story, we can better understand how these series adapted from Stephen King’s work served and were shaped by the commercial and cultural imperatives of the broadcast and post-broadcast eras of US TV. Quality TV, Quality Telefantasy, Stephen King, narrative complexity, streaming, SVOD INTRODUCTION As one of America’s most commercially successful and culturally impactful authors, Stephen King’s work has been adapted for film and television with almost unparalleled frequency. There have been more than 100 screen adaptations of King’s novels, novellas, and short stories. Like King’s writing, film adaptations of his work such as Carrie (Brian De Palma 1978), Misery (Rob Reiner 1990), and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont 1994) have often juggled mainstream popularity and critical appeal. As this article argues, some TV adaptations of King’s work have aspired to similar popular and critical success. Released in 1978 and updated in 1990, the post-apocalyptic epic fantasy novel The Stand remains one of King’s most significant works. The Stand tells a quasi-religious story of good and evil after the USA is devastated by a potent strain of influenza known as ‘Captain Trips’. Two camps of survivors emerge, one under the benevolent direction of an old woman named Mother Abigail, and the other lorded over by a devilish tyrant named Randall Flagg. It was first adapted into a four-part broadcast TV miniseries for ABC in 1994, as part of the 1990s boom in King TV adaptations that included It (ABC 1990), Golden Years (CBS 1991), The Tommyknockers (ABC 1993), The Langoliers (ABC 1995), and The Shining (ABC 1997). In 2020, The Stand was adapted to TV once again, but this time as a limited series (nine episodes) for subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access). As with the 1994 adaptation, the 2020 version of The Stand had company. Since 2010, many King TV adaptations have been produced, including Haven (Syfy 2010–15), Bag of Bones (A&E 2011), Under the Dome (CBS 2013–15), 11.22.63 (Hulu 2016), The Mist (Spike 2017), Mr. Mercedes (Audience 2017–19), The Outsider (HBO 2020), Lisey’s Story (AppleTV+ 2021), and Chapelwaite (Epix 2021). This article uses these two adaptations of The Stand to examine the similarities and differences between two eras of US ‘Quality TV’. In television studies, the term Quality TV describes a broad range of TV series, linked by their intention to be received as prestigious and therefore culturally valuable (Thompson; Feuer; McCabe and Akass; Schlütz). In addition to textual signifiers of prestige like morally complex characters and lavish production values, this sense of ‘quality’ typically requires an identifiable author. As Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine argue, Quality TV series are often ‘identified with their authors in discourses of production, promotion, and reception’ (38). Authorship is traditionally associated with artistic intentionality and integrity which helps provide the symbolic value that Quality TV audiences latch onto (Thompson 14). Newman and Levine highlight the role of ‘showrunner’ as a recent focus of authorship discourse in TV. While not a credited title, the showrunner is typically a creator/executive producer responsible for a series’ production. Some ‘showrunner auteurs’ Newman and Levine discuss are best known for their own original creations such as David Chase’s The Sopranos (HBO 1999–2007), David Simon’s The Wire (HBO 2002–08), and Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing (NBC 1999–2006), while others are known for skilfully adapting existing films or novels to television such as Joss Whedon with Buffy The Vampire Slayer (UPN/The WB 1997–2003) and Alan Ball with True Blood, respectively (47–48). Whereas King’s involvement in many of the adaptations of his work has been ‘merely as rights seller’ (McAvoy 359), his involvement in both TV versions of The Stand was more substantial, and widely promoted. King wrote the teleplay for and acted in the 1994 miniseries and wrote the final episode of the 2020 limited series ‘The Circle Closes’ (2020). His son Owen also wrote for and helped produced the 2020 version. Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott argue that ‘television provides space for [King’s] stories to unfold as he envisioned them’ (72). Though the executive producers, writers and directors of the 1994 and 2020 versions of The Stand differ, they both share a clear authorial voice in Stephen King. Nonetheless, as Jowett and Abbott also note, ‘analysis of adaptation has moved beyond the simplistic notion of fidelity to the original’ (57). Both versions of The Stand are adapted from King’s novel. However, they are also adapted to the audio-visual medium of TV. To avoid a ‘game of anecdotal semblance between distinguishing features’ (Eisenstein 437), I adopt Robert Stam’s more complex approach to understanding adaptation as a process of ‘intertextual dialogism’ (64). These two adaptations of The Stand exist in dialogue not only with King’s original novel, but also with one another, with promotional materials, and with the wider context of US Quality TV in 1994 and 2020. I am expanding on earlier work combining Quality TV and adaptation studies by Joseph Oldham, who compared two BBC adaptations of spy novelist John le Carré’s work: A Perfect Spy (BBC 2 1987) and The Night Manager (BBC 1 2016). Oldham used these two miniseries to examine how ‘le Carré’s authorial profile has been mobilized across two different [UK] “quality” television movements, and…the changing production cultures in which these adaptations were developed’ (286). He argued that these two different le Carré series separated by thirty years and adapted from two different le Carré novels, showed ‘the declining power of the BBC in the production of such prestige drama’ (286). By looking at two screen adaptations of a single novel, The Stand, I seek to demonstrate how King’s work has been adapted to suit the differing commercial and cultural imperatives of US Quality TV in the 1990s and 2020s. In Oldham’s article, he describes A Perfect Spy as a ‘reverential’, ‘safe’ adaptation of le Carré’s work, and The Night Manager as a ‘contemporary’, ‘radical’ adaptation (286). In contrast, I argue the 1994 version of The Stand aims to distinguish itself from other television of the time, but the 2020 Stand aligns itself with a larger shift in Quality TV towards the fantastical, which I have called ‘Quality Telefantasy’ (Lynch). This article focuses on key passages in King’s book, and the ways in which the two TV versions of The Stand ‘translate’ these moments to TV. Stam describes adaptation-as-translation as ‘a principled effort of inter-semiotic transition, with the inevitable losses and gains typical of any translation’ (62). What it means to ‘translate’ King’s novel into Quality TV has changed in the almost-thirty years between the two versions of The Stand. Describing the 1994 version, King says he and director Mick Garris were ‘dedicated to the idea that [they] would just do the book’ (Marsh). This resulted in a relatively straightforward adaptation of King’s massively popular novel to TV, but with some content from the novel removed or toned down to meet broadcast standards of the time. In comparison, the 2020 version of The Stand features extreme violence and a nonlinear storytelling structure that marks it as an example of ‘Quality Telefantasy’ (Lynch). This popular contemporary sub-genre of Quality TV blends expectations of US Quality TV with fantastical genre content and prioritizes complex narrative, a sense of realism, and addresses a wide, coalition audience (Lynch 26). These textual ‘losses and gains’ (Stam 62) are used as evidence of the different circumstances that drove the production of these two expensive, well-resourced adaptations of King’s novel. By comparing these two versions of the same story, we can better understand how series adapted from Stephen King’s work served and were shaped by the commercial and cultural imperatives of the broadcast and post-broadcast eras of US TV. I argue this fruitful approach can and should be applied to other examples of texts which have been adapted multiple times in different industrial and cultural contexts. INDUSTRIAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS OF THE STAND (1994) AND THE STAND (2020) The history of US television is commonly understood in TV studies scholarship as a sequence of numbered eras, each marked by technological and cultural change. Steve Behrens defines TV I (roughly 1948–75) as the broadcast era of television in the USA, while TV II (roughly 1978–95) refers to the era where new technologies such as home VCR recorders and cable television started to become widely adopted across the USA. Jimmie L. Reeves, Mark C. Rodgers and Michael Epstein define TV III as the period post-1995 when modern home video technology including DVDs became available and subscription cable TV became culturally ascendant. Finally, since 2010 several scholars have adopted the term ‘TV IV’ to describe the current fractured state of contemporary TV (Schlütz; Jenner) where streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+ are becoming increasingly dominant. Throughout its history, particularly in the USA, TV has had to fight for cultural legitimacy (Newman and Levine). According to the academic concept of Quality TV, quality programmes provide value by imparting ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu) to TV producers, networks and platforms, while generating advertising dollars by attracting desirable demographics. For some academics, Quality TV has been considered a commercial strategy to attract desirable audiences for broadcast TV advertisers and robust subscription numbers for cable TV networks and SVOD TV platforms (Thompson; Feuer; McCabe and Akass; Schlütz). I argue Quality TV is not just a commercial strategy but also a genre: a set of common and repeating textual elements recognized and anticipated by producers and viewers (Schatz; Altman; Neale; Mittell 2004). The first style of Quality TV emerged in the TV II era, when series such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS 1970–77) elevated the traditional sitcom that had dominated the previous TV I era (Mills 12), and did so without sacrificing ‘significant audience ratings’ (Mills 48). ABC’s adaptation of The Stand straddled the TV II and TV III eras. In 1994, premium cable network HBO was yet to release any of its ground-breaking original series, three of which: Oz (1997–2003), The Sopranos, and The Wire would establish the template of Quality TV drama in the TV III era. In 1994, US Quality TV was still dominated by broadcast comedies like Frasier (NBC 1993–2004) and dramas like NYPD Blue (ABC 1993–2005), both of which were nominated for several Emmy awards in the 1994 ceremony alongside The Stand. In her analysis of early Quality TV during TV II, epitomized by MTM productions, Jane Feuer argues Quality TV’s appeal was ‘double-edged’ in that it ‘appeal[ed] both to the “quality” audience, a liberal, sophisticated group of upwardly mobile professionals; and…capture[d] a large segment of the mass audience as well’ (56). Similarly, Simon Brown says ‘the essential aspect of King’s [broadcast] TV projects is that they [were] designed for a mass, mainstream audience’ (151). Along these lines, ABC’s The Stand was intended as a widely appealing, but prestigious television event. By the end of the 1980s, King was the bestselling novelist in the world (Smith 344), and following the strong viewership ratings of It in 1990, ABC produced a new King miniseries almost every year for a decade. In addition, the updated version of King’s incredibly popular novel had been released just four years earlier, so popular awareness of The Stand as a significant work was especially high in 1994. Previous King miniseries It and The Tommyknockers had USD$12-million-dollar budgets, but The Stand was given a substantially larger budget of USD$26 million, suggesting ABC’s greater popular and critical ambitions for the miniseries. The large number (95) of filming locations allowed by this financial extravagance was used in marketing material for the series to characterize it as ‘an original and groundbreaking television “event”’ worthy of serious audience attention (Brown 2011: 136). These lofty ambitions were realized, and The Stand’s four instalments each garnered around 19 million viewers (Brown 2018: 168). Critics at the time remarked positively on the series’ ‘aesthetics of expense’ (Baker), including The New York Times’ John J. O’Connor who noted ‘[a] great deal of time and money has gone into this production, and it’s right up there on the screen’ (1994). This combination of broad, popular appeal and distinction can be seen in casting of a well-known film actor like Molly Ringwald, known for her work in John Hughes’ teen classics Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) as King’s protagonist Franny Goldsmith. The series also featured legacy film actors like Ruby Dee (Mother Abigail) and Ossie Davis (Judge Richard Farris). In 1994, film stars working in television was far less common than it is now, even in Quality TV of the period. Whereas Quality TV has often been understood as meaning distinction via exclusivity, in 1994 a high profile, big budget adaptation of a popular author’s work could absolutely be described as Quality TV. In the era between the two Stand adaptations (TV III), US cable TV networks like HBO were ascendant, successfully courting smaller ‘autonomous’ audiences as valuable subscribers (Schlütz 99). These cable networks’ flagship series like The Sopranos and Mad Men (AMC 2007–15) ‘dominate[d] the quality TV market’ (Schlütz 99) thanks to substantial budgets and a gritty, realistic ‘signature style’ (Johnson 64), that appealed to valuable audiences and critics alike. Now, during TV IV, these same cable networks are competing with SVOD services for the increasingly fragmented US TV audience (Schlütz 99). Most of the mainstream, or ‘first tier’ (Lynch and Scarlata) SVODs, have moved from emulating the premium cable model of a small number of prestige series to what Amanda Lotz calls a ‘conglomerated-niche strategy’. Within this model, platforms commission and acquire a mass of content to appeal to every possible audience segment. Nonetheless, as a relatively young SVOD, Paramount+’s stable of original programming is still quite small, and largely focuses on distinct, expensive Quality TV series like The Stand. As described above, the most obvious technological change to the US TV landscape between 1994’s The Stand and 2020’s The Stand is the introduction and increasing prominence of SVOD. Compared to other SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+ has a comparatively small number of original productions. In terms of drama, the platform’s line up has been dominated by Quality TV-style extensions of existing Paramount properties such as the Star Trek franchise—Star Trek Discovery (2017–) and Star Trek: Picard (2020–)—and The Good Fight (2017–), a spinoff of the successful CBS legal drama The Good Wife (CBS 2009–16). Both Trek series and The Good Fight feature bigger budgets and fewer episodes-per-season than their broadcast forebearers and flaunt Paramount+’s restriction-free subscription platform status by featuring characters uttering expletives previously unavailable to them on broadcast television. Further, the new Trek series present a dark, gritty and violent reimagining of the franchise in order to further demonstrate their status as challenging Quality TV. Paramount+’s ‘expensive-looking’, ‘prestige’ adaptation of The Stand (Lawler), can be understood as the result of these kind of established Quality TV production strategies. The logic of Quality TV as a commercial strategy is that its textual qualities legitimate and distinguish it from the delegitimized rest of TV. By consuming Quality TV, audiences can partake in its symbolic value which in turn helps them internalize and demonstrate ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu). Whereas Quality TV during TV II aimed for wide appeal (Feuer), and Quality TV during TV III targeted niche audiences, Quality Telefantasy in TV IV has sought both simultaneously. As Jowett and Abbot note, ‘[g]enre itself is a process of adaptation’ (57). In terms of genre content, Quality TV has changed significantly during TV IV. It now regularly incorporates ‘telefantasy’ (Johnson) fantastical elements like magic, monsters and space travel, in series such as Game of Thrones (HBO 2011–19), The Walking Dead (2010–22), The Expanse (Syfy/Amazon Prime Video 2015–22), Westworld (HBO 2016–), and The Witcher (Netflix 2019–). In her exhaustive 2005 analysis of US and British sci-fi, fantasy and horror television history, Catherine Johnson notes that ‘telefantasy’ began as a fan term to describes horror, sci-fi and fantasy TV. Like Quality TV, telefantasy describes a wide range of texts connected by their ‘significant representations of “fantastic” events and objects that confound culturally accepted notions of what is believed to be real’ (Johnson 4). Unlike Quality TV’s history of prestige and highbrow symbolic value, telefantasy has long been considered lowbrow or immature. In academic work dealing with sci-fi, horror and fantasy TV, it is often simply assumed that these series have been considered culturally ‘marginal’ at best (Angelini and Booy 20) and ‘disreputable’ at worst (Hassler-Forest 174). The mainstream and critical success that has accompanied the generic shift of Quality TV towards the fantastical has broadened television taste cultures to the extent that almost every broadcast TV network, cable channel and SVOD provider is currently trying to create their own flagship Quality Telefantasy series. Since 2010, Quality Telefantasy has evolved from a minor commercial cycle into a mainstream genre (Lynch 2–3). I identify three key elements common to Quality Telefantasy series: they (1) privilege a sense of realism; (2) adopt a long-form, serialized and often complex narrative structure; and (3) address a coalition quality/cult/mainstream audience. In short, Quality Telefantasy mixes highbrow Quality TV and traditionally lowbrow fantasy elements to achieve unexpectedly broad popular appeal. Quality Telefantasy series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones impressed critics, generated a dedicated cult fanbase, but nonetheless achieved substantial mainstream viewership ratings. Whereas the 1994 adaptation of The Stand used casting to signal its broad appeal and cinematic scope via actors like Ringwald, the 2020 Stand connects itself to the wider context of contemporary Quality TV, including Quality Telefantasy. By prominently casting Alexander Skarsgård as Flagg, the series asks audiences and critics to associate it with his numerous roles on HBO Quality TV series including Generation Kill (2008), True Blood and Big Little Lies (2017–19). Whereas the 1994 version of The Stand was at pains to distinguish itself (via budget, scope, casting) from other telefantasy series of the time, including other King miniseries, the 2020 version goes out of its way to remind audiences it is an example of Quality Telefantasy. One of its first official promotional images shows a desolate highway, with series villain Flagg standing atop a crashed motorhome, a clear allusion to AMC’s post-apocalyptic zombie series The Walking Dead. However, The Stand’s status as Quality Telefantasy goes beyond intertextual promotional material. As an example of Quality Telefantasy, the 2020 adaptation rearranges King’s original story into a complex narrative. LINEAR vs COMPLEX NARRATIVE Like the novel on which it is based, the 1994 TV version of The Stand tells its story in a linear fashion. Separated into four 90-minute segments, it was broadcast on ABC over four nights: May 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th. The first two parts depict the collapse of civilization following the release of the virus, as well as the series’ heroes assembling in Boulder, Colorado, where they found a settlement called the Free Zone under the direction of the messianic Mother Abigail. The latter two parts depict a deadly bomb attack on the Boulder Free Zone by ally-turned villain Harold Lauder, after which several of the surviving heroes travel to Las Vegas to confront Flagg, where an atomic bomb destroys the city. In the 2020 version, this straightforward, episodic narrative is complicated by the imposition of a complex, non-linear storytelling structure, which rearranges and extends many of the same events depicted in the novel and 1994 version through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards and stretches the narrative out over nine episodes. This reframes The Stand as a puzzle for viewers to unlock with attentive viewing over the course of the series. In Robert Thompson’s early account of Quality TV series, he lists series’ ‘memory’ and ‘complex’ writing among the qualifiers that separates Quality TV from other, less prestigious TV (14–15). Jeffrey Sconce notes, ‘[t]he very serial elements that have been so long reviled in soaps, pulps, and other “low” genres are now used to increase connotations of “quality”’ (99). Following this logic, approachability or ease of access is often associated with TV’s history as a medium of distraction (Sconce), whereas narrative difficulty is associated with the greater audience engagement of cinema. Because of its often-labyrinthine storytelling, Daniela M. Schlütz describes Quality TV as ‘hard to make sense of and sometimes hard to bear’ (103). She argues this is part of a deliberate strategy wherein audiences are encouraged to undertake the challenge of mastering Quality TV’s interweaving narratives, an ‘intellectually rewarding’ task (103). The more work the audience is required to do to comprehend a complicated and dense Quality TV narrative, the more symbolic value that narrative bestows in return. While Quality Telefantasy series have tended tell long-form stories over the course of several seasons, Quality Telefantasy to series like The Stand series are becoming more common in recent years. Jason Mittell argues that since the 1990s there have been increasing instances of ‘narrative complexity’ in US TV, involving narrative games with the audience and ‘a shifting balance’ between episodic and serial forms (2015: 18). He describes a variety of narrative strategies such as flashforwards and flashbacks that exemplify the complicated nature of narrative complexity (Mittell 2015: 25). Several critics (Hibberd; Feinberg; Sepinwall; Shoemaker) have likened the 2020 Stand’s narrative style to the ABC sci-fi/fantasy series Lost (2004–10), an early predecessor to contemporary Quality Telefantasy and one of Mittell’s pioneering examples of narrative complexity. These complex narrative strategies invite audiences to engage deeply with the stories unfolding. Mittell suggests that this ‘ludic narrative logic’ encourages ‘research, collaboration, analysis, and interpretation’ to get the most out of the viewing experience (2015: 277). Quality Telefantasy series routinely reject narrative closure, and often forgo episodic storytelling entirely in favour of interconnected serialization that helps support the notion of a believable story world. The 2020 version of The Stand rearranges the novel and 1994 TV version’s straight forward, linear story to add narrative complexity to the series. The change from straightforward, linear narrative to complex, non-linear storytelling can be observed through two key plotlines present in all three versions of The Stand, the virus’ escape from a government laboratory and Harold Lauder’s transition from lovestruck teenager to murderous villain. The first episode of each adaptation explains how the virus escaped a government facility. The ABC version begins by showing the above-ground portion of the California military base that houses the virus. Here, story time (time within the diegesis) and discourse time (which diegetic events are displayed, how and in what order) are in relative, linear sync to create a clear, legible narrative for the audience (Mittell 2015: 26). A guard named Campion is informed that the lab below ground has experienced a containment breach and is ordered to lock down the base. Instead, Campion rushes to his nearby home to collect his wife and child. The family escapes the base in their car, the closing gate scraping the side of their speeding vehicle on the way out. The scene then transitions to the action inside the underground lab, and a series of tracking shots shows the entire staff of the lab have died from exposure to the virus. These morbid images are overlaid with the series’ production credits while the band Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ (1976) ironically plays. The following scene shows Campion crashing into a petrol station in Texas days later, where he dies in front of local Stu Redmond (Gary Sinise) and his friends, spreading the virus to the outside world. The series villain Flagg is referenced in this sequence through the presence of a crow hanging around and dialogue from Campion stating the base gate malfunctioned and that he saw a ‘dark man’ on their trip across the country. These scenes neatly and directly explain to the audience in a linear fashion where the virus was created and how it escaped and infected the world. They also introduce protagonist Stu Redmond and indicate his significance as the first person in the story with confirmed immunity. In comparison to the 1994 version’s clear, linear explanation of the virus’ escape, the 2020 Stand depiction of the same events is broken up and shown out of order in its first episode ‘The End’ (2020). Here there is a strong disjuncture between story time and discourse time. The audience is thus invited to piece together the chain of events over the course of the episode, and Flagg’s responsibility for the catastrophe is turned into a startling reveal that concludes the 2020 series’ first episode. After several scenes set months into the story, in the Boulder Free Zone, Stu Redmond is introduced to the audience already in the custody of the US government. Scenes of Stu being interviewed by scientist Dr. Jim Ellis (Hamish Linklater) are interspersed with flashbacks to Stu and his friends’ encounter with Campion at the petrol station. As far as the audience is aware, this is all the result of a tragic accident. It is not until final sequence of the episode that Campion’s escape is depicted. Instead of above ground at the base, he is positioned in a room below ground, monitoring the entrance to the lab through a window. Campion receives a phone call alerting him to a containment breach and is confronted by a fatally infected scientist banging on his window. In response, Campion activates a lockdown, but the heavy automatic door between his station in the lab and the base outside, jams open. The metal door screeches and jitters as if it is being held open by a powerful invisible force. After a moment’s hesitation Campion runs to collect his family. After he leaves his station, the camera pans down to reveal Flagg is casually holding the door open with his boot. The large mechanical door is twisted and dented from the supernatural impact of Flagg’s foot, and slams shut when he releases it. As Campion flees with his family down the highway in their car, they pass Flagg, who appears to be strolling down the road, hitchhiking. As they speed past, the camera pans around until it is facing the car’s rear-view mirror, through which Flagg can be seen sitting in the backseat next to Campion’s infant child. Flagg grins menacingly before the episode cuts to credits. Like King’s novel, the first instalment of the 1994 version presents the series of events that cause the end of the world in a clear, linear fashion. In contrast, the 2020 version remixes these same events into a complex mystery for viewers to ponder throughout the first episode, until a startling reveal confirms the series’ supernatural antagonist is the cause of the viral apocalypse that sets the narrative in motion. In Mittell’s definition, narrative complexity can be observed in several ways, including the presence of ‘narrative special effects’ (2015: 43). Mittell uses the term ‘special effect’ to link the practice to the formal strategy of visual spectacle, which suspends the narrative for a moment of awe. Mittell describes the narrative special effect as a moment when ‘a program flexes its storytelling muscles to confound and amaze a viewer’ (2015: 43). As with the virus’ escape from the military laboratory, Harold Lauder’s transition from pitiful but intelligent nerd to one of the story’s key villains is laid out in markedly different ways in the 1994 and 2020 versions of The Stand. Lauder (Corin Nemec) is introduced early in the first part of the 1994 miniseries when he visits his neighbour Franny and her father (Ken Jenkins) to show them his story has been published in an amateur fiction magazine. The 1994 series initially positions Harold as a comedic nuisance to Franny. He is dressed in an infantile red tracksuit and large glasses. Nemec’s conventional good looks are disguised with excessive acne makeup and a greasy hairstyle. Nemec performs Harold’s dialogue in an awkward, stilted way that explains Franny’s obvious disinterest when he asks her out on a date to an arthouse film festival. Her father makes fun of Harold’s pretentions by mockingly reading out a portion of his writing in the magazine. Nonetheless, when Franny’s father succumbs to the super flu, Harold assists her in burying the body, after which they decide to look for other survivors and embark on a cross-country journey. When audiences next encounter Harold in the second episode of the miniseries, he has donned a comically exaggerated motorcycle outfit that consists of a gaudy studded leather jacket, leather chaps, and snakeskin boots. Later in same second episode, his attitude has improved, his acne cleared up and his costuming has become less comical. It is only once Harold realizes Franny has entered a romantic relationship with Stu Redmond that his comedic function in the story evaporates and his plainly villainous tendencies emerge. In the third episode he is recruited into Flagg’s cohort by Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo) and together they commit an act of terrorism against the Boulder Free Zone. A tragic, gradual downfall told straightforwardly. Unlike the 1994 version’s depiction of Harold Lauder as a dorky young man ‘misled’ by an evil presence (King 1990: 977), the 2020 version jumps around the story’s timeline to reveal a variety of versions of Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), asking the audience to constantly reconsider the character with each new piece of narrative information. This contemporary depiction of Harold is influenced by the rise of the dangerous male ‘involuntary celibate’ (incel) online subculture in recent years which ‘promote[s] anti-feminist beliefs and the need for protection of men’s rights’ (O’Malley et al., 3). In the very first scene of the 2020 series Harold is shown contributing to the Boulder Free Zone community by volunteering to help clear the bodies of flu victims. A flashback then shows him saving Franny’s life after she attempts suicide following the death of her father. However, these promising views of Harold are undercut by another flashback that shows him spying on Franny through a hole in her backyard fence, before furiously masturbating to a stolen photograph of her. More scenes of his time on the Boulder corpse clean-up crew appear to show him creating genuine friendships with his colleagues, and mourning the world they all lost, when he uncovers a stash of old celebrity magazines, including one featuring actor Tom Cruise on the cover. Any good will the audience has gathered towards Harold, or sense that he has shown moral improvement over the series’ timeline is shattered by a subsequent scene late in the episode, where Harold practices ‘charming’ mannerisms in the mirror, mimicking the photo of Cruise he found. A score of sharp horror strings accompanies Teague’s performance: frightening shifts between cold stares and exaggerated smiles. This confirms to audiences that this duplicitous monster is the real Harold. It also reveals that his genial nature in the series’ story time ‘present’ is a carefully created façade, not reflective of a genuine improvement in demeanour. Harold later writes a diary entry plotting murderous revenge on Franny for spurning his advances, and Stu Redmond for ‘taking’ her from him. Harold’s diary entries are present in the 1994 miniseries, but in the 2020 version they more closely resemble a ‘manifesto’ (O’Malley et al., 4). Such manifestos ‘highlighting the [imagined] need to seek revenge on women and masculine men’ are penned by real world incel terrorists like Elliot Rodger, who killed several people in California in 2018 (O’Malley et al., 4). The 1994 version of Harold begins the miniseries as a joke before slowly turning into a villain, whereas the 2020 iteration of Harold is a temporally unmoored puzzle, tied into dangerously real violent, misogynistic behaviours. Despite the appearance of social development and moral improvement, this Harold was always a villain, hiding in plain sight. The audience must piece together the series’ timeline to solve this puzzle. These ‘pleasurable moments of confusion, surprise, and twisty trickery’ constitute a ‘narrative special effect’ (Mittell 2015: 168). Returning to Robert Stam’s understanding of adaptation as dialogic and intertextual, it is also perfectly likely that a portion of the 2020 version of The Stand’s audience will have also seen the 1994 version, read the novel, or both. This assessment was noted by critics such as USA Daily’s Kelly Lawler, who argues the 2020 Stand assumes ‘whoever is watching will have read the book first’. For audiences familiar with other versions of The Stand, the thrill of the narrative effects on display in the 2020 version is not ‘what will happen?’ but ‘how will it happen?’. More than just a creative flourish, the restructuring of The Stand’s story into a complex, non-linear puzzle narrative serves its function as a contemporary Quality Telefantasy series that is worthy of audience’s time, attention and cognitive effort. The bargain all Quality TV, including Quality Telefantasy, strikes with its audience, is that watching and investing rewards this effort with symbolic value. In addition to its complex narrative, The Stand blends traditional expectations of gritty, violent, plausible US TV III Quality TV with spectacular, fantastical genre content. ADAPTATIONS OF VIOLENCE As a piece of dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy, each version of the The Stand necessarily features violence. King’s novel describes the downfall of civilization thanks to a deadly virus, but its human characters inflict just as much damage on one another as the super flu does. For example, in all versions, the US government engages in violent crackdowns on civil unrest, including the murder of protesters and journalists to maintain control of the population. While not as gruesome as the novel, the 1994 ABC adaptation features a surprising amount of carnage given it was restricted by prime-time broadcast TV standards and practices. As Brown notes, ‘Garris…secure[ed] a 15 certificate for the video release by toning down gore, such as when [Campion’s] car crashes into the gas station near the beginning, bodies are recovered in darkness, close-ups focus on figures facing away from the camera and we quickly cut to reaction shots’ (2011: 137). However, the Paramount+ version recreates and even extends the violence present in the novel as a way of demonstrating the lack of creative constraint allowed by its place on a contemporary SVOD platform. Victims of the superflu in the 2020 adaptation suffer (via complex prosthetic makeup) from bloated, distended ‘tube-neck’, which King describes colourfully in his novel as ‘black and swollen as an inner-tube some heedless child had pumped up to the point of bursting’ (1990: 200). As with other examples of Quality Telefantasy, violence is employed to add a sense of gritty realism to fantastical content. King himself implied during development of the 2020 version of The Stand that this spectacular violence, and the budget to depict it convincingly, made for a more authentic adaptation of his novel to the screen (Kennedy). This kind of paratextual information encourages audiences to read this new adaptation as a more ‘direct’ translation of King’s novel, ‘free of all those things that held [him] back’ on 1990s broadcast TV. This is not to say that either TV adaptation is more authentic, or subjectively better. Rather, it is evidence of the discourses of prestige and distinction that Quality TV relies upon for its symbolic value. Promotional paratexts for such series often compare them favourably to some lesser valued other television, in this case even an earlier Quality TV adaptation of the same novel. In addition to more explicitly translating the violence of King’s novel to screen, the 2020 version of The Stand adds new instances of extreme violence that were not present in either the novel or the 1994 miniseries. For example, in the climax of all versions of The Stand, Flagg and his followers are defeated when one of his acolytes erroneously brings a nuclear warhead to Las Vegas, hoping to gain Flagg’s favour. The bomb is then activated by the ‘Hand of God’ (King 1990: 1084), a miraculous electrical occurrence. In King’s novel, the results of the electricity and the bomb’s detonation are only briefly described: ‘Silent white light filled the world’ (King 1990: 1085). It is left to the reader to presume that Flagg and all his followers have been killed in the atomic explosion. The 1994 TV version follows suit in this regard, with Stu Redmond observing a far-off mushroom cloud. In the 2020 version, the Hand of God is a more active force, specifically targeting Flagg’s remaining lieutenants before detonating the bomb that destroys Las Vegas. In an extended sequence in the series’ eighth episode ‘The Stand’ (2020), individual villains Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara) and Rat Woman (Fiona Douriff) are blown apart in detailed digital effects spectacles. Lawry is vertically bisected by a burning bolt of electricity, while Rat Woman’s torso is exploded by the lightning, her severed head twirling out of frame. Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) is killed when the electrical blasts dislodge a lighting rig, causing it to swing down and messily decapitate him. Though the novel and 1994 TV version leave little doubt as to the fates of the novel’s villains, the 2020 version flaunts its status as unrestricted, fabulously financed Quality TV to show their demise in spectacular, gory detail. King’s 1990 Complete and Uncut edition of The Stand adds an epilogue where the story’s supernatural villain Randall Flagg is reincarnated on a tropical island and convinces the local tribespeople to worship him. This addendum is not present in the 1994 screen version of The Stand, but is adapted in the 2020 version, albeit with the addition of brutal, spectacular violence. Though the novel’s version of events suggests troubling themes of colonialism, and a condescending outlook on indigenous peoples, it is not an explicitly violent scene. Flagg does not demonstrate his otherworldly powers or harm the tribespeople. His presence alone is sufficient to inspire ‘joy and terror’ (King 1990: 1153) in them. As in King’s novel, the 2020 version features Flagg (played by Alexander Skarsgård) inexplicably waking up nude on the shores of a tropical island after his supposed demise in the Las Vegas nuclear explosion. Local tribespeople tentatively approach Flagg from the jungle. Unlike in the novel, the tribespeople are not immediately enraptured by the outsider. Instead, it takes an act of spectacular, gory supernatural violence to earn their worship. First, a local warrior aims a bow at Flagg and shouts threateningly. Flagg responds by sarcastically singing the chorus of US funk band War’s ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ (1975) before the warrior fires an arrow at him. Flagg catches the arrow with uncanny speed, then makes a “finger gun” motion back at the warrior. A gun shot sound is heard, then the warrior’s head explodes as if hit by a high-calibre bullet, the decapitated body collapsing to the ground. Though fantastical, this moment is rendered plausibly visceral via complex digital effects. As in the novel, the scene’s primary function is to suggest the threat Flagg poses has not truly been extinguished. However, by adding a violent death to the scene, the 2020 version of The Stand highlights its freedom from any form of content restriction because of its place on a subscription streaming platform as well as the substantial production values this placement allows. Besides the more typical Quality TV strategy of flaunting content restriction as a sign of distinction and symbolic value, the 2020 version of The Stand depicts the death of major characters with a similar degree of violent spectacle to add stakes and plausibility to its fantastical diegesis. This constitutes a Quality Telefantasy ‘spectacle of realism’ (Lynch 135), wherein fantastical genre content is made more plausible and grounded but also more visually spectacular to convey symbolic value to viewers. Violence, especially the death of major characters as a marker of realism and distinction, has been common in Quality TV since the ascendancy of subscription cable in TV III and its evasion of broadcast content restrictions. However, when deployed by Quality Telefantasy series, major character death has become more common and more spectacular than ever before. This demonstrates the greater lengths to which Quality Telefantasy must go to convince the audience its fantastical worlds have realistic stakes and consequences. Beyond merely popularizing the major character death as a narrative possibility in contemporary TV, Quality Telefantasy has created a new twist on this trope: scenes that feature spectacular decapitation or complete bodily destruction of major characters. In Quality Telefantasy, minor and major characters have their heads lopped off with medieval swords (Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones), smashed in with baseball bats (Glen Rhee in The Walking Dead) or telekinetically exploded (agent Susan Raynor in The Boys, Amazon Prime Video 2019–) with wanton abandon. Not every super-powered decapitation or dragon fire immolation in Quality Telefantasy is a major character death, but almost every major character death involves the spectacular removal of that character’s head or the destruction of their entire body. These spectacles of realism focus on major characters’ bodies, especially their biological vulnerability, to convey a Quality Telefantasy series’ commitment to a realistic depiction of life and death according to common ‘cultural’ expectations (Lynch 32). Whereas ABC’s version of The Stand certainly toyed with the limits of broadcast TV standards in terms of violence to translate King’s novel to 1994 Quality TV, Paramount+’s version gleefully extends the onscreen violence beyond that described in the original novel to present itself as appropriately distinct and challenging given its status as 2020 Quality Telefantasy. Comparing the 2020 version to the 1994 version, some of these major character deaths are closer to their respective violent descriptions in King’s novel, while others are made even more explicitly, photo-realistically violent to satisfy the generic expectations of Quality Telefantasy (Lynch 33). The deaths of two of the novel’s major villains: murderous nerd Harold Lauder and Flagg’s bride Nadine Cross serve as useful examples of this. In all three versions of The Stand, Harold’s death unfolds similarly. After killing several people with a homemade explosive in the Boulder Free Zone, he and Nadine flee to Las Vegas, Flagg’s base of operations. On route, he falls off his motorbike (an accident engineered by Flagg and Nadine) and is mortally injured. After reflecting on his mistakes for a time, Harold commits suicide with a pistol. King describes his death in some detail: first ‘[Harold] put the muzzle of the Colt in his mouth and looked up at the blue sky’ and then ‘He pulled the trigger. The gun went off’ (King 1990: 978). Harold’s body is found later in the novel by Stu Redmond in a gruesome state: ‘The buzzards had worked him over pretty well’ and ‘The .38 was jammed in his mouth like a grotesque lollipop’ (1043). The 1994 TV version shows Harold picking up the gun, before cutting to Stu Redmond experiencing a psychic vision of his death. Stu flinches and a gunshot is heard. He then states out loud to his companions: ‘It’s Harold, he’s dead’. Unlike in the novel, Harold’s body is not discovered. In the 2020 version, the audience is privy both to Harold’s death and its gruesome aftermath, in the episode ‘The Walk’ (2020). A wide shot shows Harold placing the pistol in his mouth before a spray of blood is ejected via digital effects from the back of his head. Harold’s body is found, this time by Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), and the buzzards (only present on the score of the 1994 scene) have indeed ‘worked him over’. A detailed prop corpse of Harold shows his face has been eaten away by the carrion. His eyes, nose and lips are gone, so his face resembles a fleshy, flayed skull. In this instance, where the 1994 version omitted the violence described in King’s novel for the sake of standards and practices of broadcast TV, the 2020 version hews closely to King’s description, demonstrating both the time, money and creative freedom allowed by contemporary SVOD distribution. It also sticks to Quality Telefantasy genre expectations where deaths, even via fantastical means, are rendered gruesomely plausible and finite as a signifier of ‘cultural’ and ‘perceptual’ realism (Lynch 32–33) Like Harold, Nadine is killed in both TV versions and King’s novel. However, the depiction of her death diverges wildly in each. In the book, Nadine, pregnant with Flagg’s demonic offspring goads him into throwing her off the top of a Las Vegas skyscraper, killing both her and the unborn monster. In King’s depiction, he writes that Flagg’s ‘hands slammed down on [Nadine’s] shoulders, snapping both collarbones like pencils’ before he throws her to her death, where she ‘went down as silently as a defective skyrocket’ (King 1990: 1016). In the 1994 miniseries, Nadine leaps off the building herself after taunting Flagg, but like the novel the impact of her fall is not explicitly represented, occurring out of frame, and accompanied by a muffled thud and the shocked reaction of an onlooker. A later scene shows blood (but no body) being hosed from the Vegas sidewalk. In contrast the 2020 version makes a lengthy, multi-part, slow-motion spectacle of Nadine’s death, and follows it up with the addition of a new and grisly confirmation of just how dead the character is. In the 2020 version of her death scene in the penultimate episode of the series, Nadine (Amber Heard) breaks the skyscraper window herself. A close-up digital effects shot shows Nadine shattering the glass in slow-motion, her momentum carrying her out the window. Nadine’s fall is shown from several angles, using long and mid-shots. Her white wedding gown billows elegantly as she falls, surrounded by shards of the shattered window. She then plummets through the glass ceiling of Flagg’s casino headquarters, slamming into the empty swimming pool in its centre, where the camera lingers on her crumpled corpse. A final close-up focuses on her glass-studded foot and the casino’s neon lights reflected in a growing pool of blood. This extended death scene (and the demonic Flagg’s furious reaction) would seem to confirm that both Nadine and the unborn child she carries are dead, beyond even Flagg’s supernatural powers to restore. However, in an additional sequence, Nadine’s severed, mangled head is displayed to confirm her demise beyond a shadow of a doubt. Later in the same episode, Flagg’s underling Rat Woman presents a horrified Larry Underwood with the head on a dinner platter. The gory but spectacular prop head is the result of extensive, detailed practical effects work that recreates the recognizable eyes of actor Amber Heard. The rest of the face is a ruin of exposed bone, teeth and blood. As is typical of other spectacles of realism in Quality Telefantasy series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, the combination of spectacular effects, cinematography, editing and performance combine to confirm the finality of major character death within a heightened fantastical diegesis, thereby rendering it (in one way at least) plausible to the audience. This is an important way in which Quality Telefantasy renders fantastical, and historically undervalued genre material with the same symbolic value long applied to more traditionally realistic Quality TV series like The Sopranos or Mad Men. CONCLUSION This article has used the two TV adaptations of Stephen King’s novel The Stand to examine how the concept of ‘Quality TV’ has changed between two distinct eras of US television: TV II (1978–95) and TV IV (2010–). I have argued that King’s novel provides a kind of baseline against which to examine the wider industrial and cultural context in which these two adaptations were produced. I have highlighted the rise of Quality Telefantasy as a distinct sub-genre of Quality TV wherein fantastical content is presented as symbolically valuable to audiences through a variety of aesthetic and narrative techniques. When compared to the relatively straightforward 1994 ABC adaptation, 2020’s Paramount+ adaptation tells its story in a narratively complex way and heightens the violence to add blockbuster production value and a sense of gritty, realistic stakes to King’s grand fantastical tale. As this article has demonstrated, each adaptation of The Stand is not only in intertextual dialogue with King’s novel, but also the wider US television industries of 1994 and 2020. Of course, King is not the only author whose work has been widely, and frequently adapted to screen, and so I propose this approach might be applied to other repeat adaptations to examine the context in which they are produced. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been so frequently adapted for TV by the BBC, that it provides an opportunity to track and examine not only the commercial and creative strategies of the national broadcaster (as in Oldham), but prestige UK TV over the decades. Further, as Ashley Polasek has already demonstrated, a single widely adapted literary character like Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes or, I suggest, Tom Clancy’s super spy Jack Ryan could be used in such a manner to provide evidence of wider creative, cultural and industrial changes in Quality TV. Familiar, recognizable stories and characters are more valuable than ever to risk-averse media producers. 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Translating Stephen King’s The Stand to Quality TV

Adaptation , Volume Advance Article – Jun 20, 2022

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Oxford University Press
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Copyright © 2022 Oxford University Press
ISSN
1755-0637
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1755-0645
DOI
10.1093/adaptation/apac007
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Abstract

Abstract Released in 1978 and updated in 1990, the post-apocalyptic epic fantasy novel The Stand remains one of author Stephen King’s most significant works. The Stand tells a quasi-religious story of good and evil after the USA is devastated by a potent strain of influenza known as ‘Captain Trips’. Two camps of survivors emerge, one under the benevolent direction of an old woman named Mother Abigail, and the other lorded over by a devilish Tyrant named Randall Flagg. Like so much of King’s writing, it has been adapted to screen. It was first adapted into a four-part broadcast television miniseries event for broadcast network ABC in 1994. The Stand was adapted to television once again in 2020, this time as a limited series (nine episodes) for subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access). This article uses these two adaptations of The Stand to examine the similarities and differences between two eras of US ‘quality’ television. ‘Quality TV’ describes a broad range of TV series, linked by their intention to be received as prestigious and therefore culturally valuable. By comparing two adaptations of the same original story, we can better understand how these series adapted from Stephen King’s work served and were shaped by the commercial and cultural imperatives of the broadcast and post-broadcast eras of US TV. Quality TV, Quality Telefantasy, Stephen King, narrative complexity, streaming, SVOD INTRODUCTION As one of America’s most commercially successful and culturally impactful authors, Stephen King’s work has been adapted for film and television with almost unparalleled frequency. There have been more than 100 screen adaptations of King’s novels, novellas, and short stories. Like King’s writing, film adaptations of his work such as Carrie (Brian De Palma 1978), Misery (Rob Reiner 1990), and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont 1994) have often juggled mainstream popularity and critical appeal. As this article argues, some TV adaptations of King’s work have aspired to similar popular and critical success. Released in 1978 and updated in 1990, the post-apocalyptic epic fantasy novel The Stand remains one of King’s most significant works. The Stand tells a quasi-religious story of good and evil after the USA is devastated by a potent strain of influenza known as ‘Captain Trips’. Two camps of survivors emerge, one under the benevolent direction of an old woman named Mother Abigail, and the other lorded over by a devilish tyrant named Randall Flagg. It was first adapted into a four-part broadcast TV miniseries for ABC in 1994, as part of the 1990s boom in King TV adaptations that included It (ABC 1990), Golden Years (CBS 1991), The Tommyknockers (ABC 1993), The Langoliers (ABC 1995), and The Shining (ABC 1997). In 2020, The Stand was adapted to TV once again, but this time as a limited series (nine episodes) for subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access). As with the 1994 adaptation, the 2020 version of The Stand had company. Since 2010, many King TV adaptations have been produced, including Haven (Syfy 2010–15), Bag of Bones (A&E 2011), Under the Dome (CBS 2013–15), 11.22.63 (Hulu 2016), The Mist (Spike 2017), Mr. Mercedes (Audience 2017–19), The Outsider (HBO 2020), Lisey’s Story (AppleTV+ 2021), and Chapelwaite (Epix 2021). This article uses these two adaptations of The Stand to examine the similarities and differences between two eras of US ‘Quality TV’. In television studies, the term Quality TV describes a broad range of TV series, linked by their intention to be received as prestigious and therefore culturally valuable (Thompson; Feuer; McCabe and Akass; Schlütz). In addition to textual signifiers of prestige like morally complex characters and lavish production values, this sense of ‘quality’ typically requires an identifiable author. As Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine argue, Quality TV series are often ‘identified with their authors in discourses of production, promotion, and reception’ (38). Authorship is traditionally associated with artistic intentionality and integrity which helps provide the symbolic value that Quality TV audiences latch onto (Thompson 14). Newman and Levine highlight the role of ‘showrunner’ as a recent focus of authorship discourse in TV. While not a credited title, the showrunner is typically a creator/executive producer responsible for a series’ production. Some ‘showrunner auteurs’ Newman and Levine discuss are best known for their own original creations such as David Chase’s The Sopranos (HBO 1999–2007), David Simon’s The Wire (HBO 2002–08), and Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing (NBC 1999–2006), while others are known for skilfully adapting existing films or novels to television such as Joss Whedon with Buffy The Vampire Slayer (UPN/The WB 1997–2003) and Alan Ball with True Blood, respectively (47–48). Whereas King’s involvement in many of the adaptations of his work has been ‘merely as rights seller’ (McAvoy 359), his involvement in both TV versions of The Stand was more substantial, and widely promoted. King wrote the teleplay for and acted in the 1994 miniseries and wrote the final episode of the 2020 limited series ‘The Circle Closes’ (2020). His son Owen also wrote for and helped produced the 2020 version. Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott argue that ‘television provides space for [King’s] stories to unfold as he envisioned them’ (72). Though the executive producers, writers and directors of the 1994 and 2020 versions of The Stand differ, they both share a clear authorial voice in Stephen King. Nonetheless, as Jowett and Abbott also note, ‘analysis of adaptation has moved beyond the simplistic notion of fidelity to the original’ (57). Both versions of The Stand are adapted from King’s novel. However, they are also adapted to the audio-visual medium of TV. To avoid a ‘game of anecdotal semblance between distinguishing features’ (Eisenstein 437), I adopt Robert Stam’s more complex approach to understanding adaptation as a process of ‘intertextual dialogism’ (64). These two adaptations of The Stand exist in dialogue not only with King’s original novel, but also with one another, with promotional materials, and with the wider context of US Quality TV in 1994 and 2020. I am expanding on earlier work combining Quality TV and adaptation studies by Joseph Oldham, who compared two BBC adaptations of spy novelist John le Carré’s work: A Perfect Spy (BBC 2 1987) and The Night Manager (BBC 1 2016). Oldham used these two miniseries to examine how ‘le Carré’s authorial profile has been mobilized across two different [UK] “quality” television movements, and…the changing production cultures in which these adaptations were developed’ (286). He argued that these two different le Carré series separated by thirty years and adapted from two different le Carré novels, showed ‘the declining power of the BBC in the production of such prestige drama’ (286). By looking at two screen adaptations of a single novel, The Stand, I seek to demonstrate how King’s work has been adapted to suit the differing commercial and cultural imperatives of US Quality TV in the 1990s and 2020s. In Oldham’s article, he describes A Perfect Spy as a ‘reverential’, ‘safe’ adaptation of le Carré’s work, and The Night Manager as a ‘contemporary’, ‘radical’ adaptation (286). In contrast, I argue the 1994 version of The Stand aims to distinguish itself from other television of the time, but the 2020 Stand aligns itself with a larger shift in Quality TV towards the fantastical, which I have called ‘Quality Telefantasy’ (Lynch). This article focuses on key passages in King’s book, and the ways in which the two TV versions of The Stand ‘translate’ these moments to TV. Stam describes adaptation-as-translation as ‘a principled effort of inter-semiotic transition, with the inevitable losses and gains typical of any translation’ (62). What it means to ‘translate’ King’s novel into Quality TV has changed in the almost-thirty years between the two versions of The Stand. Describing the 1994 version, King says he and director Mick Garris were ‘dedicated to the idea that [they] would just do the book’ (Marsh). This resulted in a relatively straightforward adaptation of King’s massively popular novel to TV, but with some content from the novel removed or toned down to meet broadcast standards of the time. In comparison, the 2020 version of The Stand features extreme violence and a nonlinear storytelling structure that marks it as an example of ‘Quality Telefantasy’ (Lynch). This popular contemporary sub-genre of Quality TV blends expectations of US Quality TV with fantastical genre content and prioritizes complex narrative, a sense of realism, and addresses a wide, coalition audience (Lynch 26). These textual ‘losses and gains’ (Stam 62) are used as evidence of the different circumstances that drove the production of these two expensive, well-resourced adaptations of King’s novel. By comparing these two versions of the same story, we can better understand how series adapted from Stephen King’s work served and were shaped by the commercial and cultural imperatives of the broadcast and post-broadcast eras of US TV. I argue this fruitful approach can and should be applied to other examples of texts which have been adapted multiple times in different industrial and cultural contexts. INDUSTRIAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS OF THE STAND (1994) AND THE STAND (2020) The history of US television is commonly understood in TV studies scholarship as a sequence of numbered eras, each marked by technological and cultural change. Steve Behrens defines TV I (roughly 1948–75) as the broadcast era of television in the USA, while TV II (roughly 1978–95) refers to the era where new technologies such as home VCR recorders and cable television started to become widely adopted across the USA. Jimmie L. Reeves, Mark C. Rodgers and Michael Epstein define TV III as the period post-1995 when modern home video technology including DVDs became available and subscription cable TV became culturally ascendant. Finally, since 2010 several scholars have adopted the term ‘TV IV’ to describe the current fractured state of contemporary TV (Schlütz; Jenner) where streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+ are becoming increasingly dominant. Throughout its history, particularly in the USA, TV has had to fight for cultural legitimacy (Newman and Levine). According to the academic concept of Quality TV, quality programmes provide value by imparting ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu) to TV producers, networks and platforms, while generating advertising dollars by attracting desirable demographics. For some academics, Quality TV has been considered a commercial strategy to attract desirable audiences for broadcast TV advertisers and robust subscription numbers for cable TV networks and SVOD TV platforms (Thompson; Feuer; McCabe and Akass; Schlütz). I argue Quality TV is not just a commercial strategy but also a genre: a set of common and repeating textual elements recognized and anticipated by producers and viewers (Schatz; Altman; Neale; Mittell 2004). The first style of Quality TV emerged in the TV II era, when series such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS 1970–77) elevated the traditional sitcom that had dominated the previous TV I era (Mills 12), and did so without sacrificing ‘significant audience ratings’ (Mills 48). ABC’s adaptation of The Stand straddled the TV II and TV III eras. In 1994, premium cable network HBO was yet to release any of its ground-breaking original series, three of which: Oz (1997–2003), The Sopranos, and The Wire would establish the template of Quality TV drama in the TV III era. In 1994, US Quality TV was still dominated by broadcast comedies like Frasier (NBC 1993–2004) and dramas like NYPD Blue (ABC 1993–2005), both of which were nominated for several Emmy awards in the 1994 ceremony alongside The Stand. In her analysis of early Quality TV during TV II, epitomized by MTM productions, Jane Feuer argues Quality TV’s appeal was ‘double-edged’ in that it ‘appeal[ed] both to the “quality” audience, a liberal, sophisticated group of upwardly mobile professionals; and…capture[d] a large segment of the mass audience as well’ (56). Similarly, Simon Brown says ‘the essential aspect of King’s [broadcast] TV projects is that they [were] designed for a mass, mainstream audience’ (151). Along these lines, ABC’s The Stand was intended as a widely appealing, but prestigious television event. By the end of the 1980s, King was the bestselling novelist in the world (Smith 344), and following the strong viewership ratings of It in 1990, ABC produced a new King miniseries almost every year for a decade. In addition, the updated version of King’s incredibly popular novel had been released just four years earlier, so popular awareness of The Stand as a significant work was especially high in 1994. Previous King miniseries It and The Tommyknockers had USD$12-million-dollar budgets, but The Stand was given a substantially larger budget of USD$26 million, suggesting ABC’s greater popular and critical ambitions for the miniseries. The large number (95) of filming locations allowed by this financial extravagance was used in marketing material for the series to characterize it as ‘an original and groundbreaking television “event”’ worthy of serious audience attention (Brown 2011: 136). These lofty ambitions were realized, and The Stand’s four instalments each garnered around 19 million viewers (Brown 2018: 168). Critics at the time remarked positively on the series’ ‘aesthetics of expense’ (Baker), including The New York Times’ John J. O’Connor who noted ‘[a] great deal of time and money has gone into this production, and it’s right up there on the screen’ (1994). This combination of broad, popular appeal and distinction can be seen in casting of a well-known film actor like Molly Ringwald, known for her work in John Hughes’ teen classics Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986) as King’s protagonist Franny Goldsmith. The series also featured legacy film actors like Ruby Dee (Mother Abigail) and Ossie Davis (Judge Richard Farris). In 1994, film stars working in television was far less common than it is now, even in Quality TV of the period. Whereas Quality TV has often been understood as meaning distinction via exclusivity, in 1994 a high profile, big budget adaptation of a popular author’s work could absolutely be described as Quality TV. In the era between the two Stand adaptations (TV III), US cable TV networks like HBO were ascendant, successfully courting smaller ‘autonomous’ audiences as valuable subscribers (Schlütz 99). These cable networks’ flagship series like The Sopranos and Mad Men (AMC 2007–15) ‘dominate[d] the quality TV market’ (Schlütz 99) thanks to substantial budgets and a gritty, realistic ‘signature style’ (Johnson 64), that appealed to valuable audiences and critics alike. Now, during TV IV, these same cable networks are competing with SVOD services for the increasingly fragmented US TV audience (Schlütz 99). Most of the mainstream, or ‘first tier’ (Lynch and Scarlata) SVODs, have moved from emulating the premium cable model of a small number of prestige series to what Amanda Lotz calls a ‘conglomerated-niche strategy’. Within this model, platforms commission and acquire a mass of content to appeal to every possible audience segment. Nonetheless, as a relatively young SVOD, Paramount+’s stable of original programming is still quite small, and largely focuses on distinct, expensive Quality TV series like The Stand. As described above, the most obvious technological change to the US TV landscape between 1994’s The Stand and 2020’s The Stand is the introduction and increasing prominence of SVOD. Compared to other SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+ has a comparatively small number of original productions. In terms of drama, the platform’s line up has been dominated by Quality TV-style extensions of existing Paramount properties such as the Star Trek franchise—Star Trek Discovery (2017–) and Star Trek: Picard (2020–)—and The Good Fight (2017–), a spinoff of the successful CBS legal drama The Good Wife (CBS 2009–16). Both Trek series and The Good Fight feature bigger budgets and fewer episodes-per-season than their broadcast forebearers and flaunt Paramount+’s restriction-free subscription platform status by featuring characters uttering expletives previously unavailable to them on broadcast television. Further, the new Trek series present a dark, gritty and violent reimagining of the franchise in order to further demonstrate their status as challenging Quality TV. Paramount+’s ‘expensive-looking’, ‘prestige’ adaptation of The Stand (Lawler), can be understood as the result of these kind of established Quality TV production strategies. The logic of Quality TV as a commercial strategy is that its textual qualities legitimate and distinguish it from the delegitimized rest of TV. By consuming Quality TV, audiences can partake in its symbolic value which in turn helps them internalize and demonstrate ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu). Whereas Quality TV during TV II aimed for wide appeal (Feuer), and Quality TV during TV III targeted niche audiences, Quality Telefantasy in TV IV has sought both simultaneously. As Jowett and Abbot note, ‘[g]enre itself is a process of adaptation’ (57). In terms of genre content, Quality TV has changed significantly during TV IV. It now regularly incorporates ‘telefantasy’ (Johnson) fantastical elements like magic, monsters and space travel, in series such as Game of Thrones (HBO 2011–19), The Walking Dead (2010–22), The Expanse (Syfy/Amazon Prime Video 2015–22), Westworld (HBO 2016–), and The Witcher (Netflix 2019–). In her exhaustive 2005 analysis of US and British sci-fi, fantasy and horror television history, Catherine Johnson notes that ‘telefantasy’ began as a fan term to describes horror, sci-fi and fantasy TV. Like Quality TV, telefantasy describes a wide range of texts connected by their ‘significant representations of “fantastic” events and objects that confound culturally accepted notions of what is believed to be real’ (Johnson 4). Unlike Quality TV’s history of prestige and highbrow symbolic value, telefantasy has long been considered lowbrow or immature. In academic work dealing with sci-fi, horror and fantasy TV, it is often simply assumed that these series have been considered culturally ‘marginal’ at best (Angelini and Booy 20) and ‘disreputable’ at worst (Hassler-Forest 174). The mainstream and critical success that has accompanied the generic shift of Quality TV towards the fantastical has broadened television taste cultures to the extent that almost every broadcast TV network, cable channel and SVOD provider is currently trying to create their own flagship Quality Telefantasy series. Since 2010, Quality Telefantasy has evolved from a minor commercial cycle into a mainstream genre (Lynch 2–3). I identify three key elements common to Quality Telefantasy series: they (1) privilege a sense of realism; (2) adopt a long-form, serialized and often complex narrative structure; and (3) address a coalition quality/cult/mainstream audience. In short, Quality Telefantasy mixes highbrow Quality TV and traditionally lowbrow fantasy elements to achieve unexpectedly broad popular appeal. Quality Telefantasy series like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones impressed critics, generated a dedicated cult fanbase, but nonetheless achieved substantial mainstream viewership ratings. Whereas the 1994 adaptation of The Stand used casting to signal its broad appeal and cinematic scope via actors like Ringwald, the 2020 Stand connects itself to the wider context of contemporary Quality TV, including Quality Telefantasy. By prominently casting Alexander Skarsgård as Flagg, the series asks audiences and critics to associate it with his numerous roles on HBO Quality TV series including Generation Kill (2008), True Blood and Big Little Lies (2017–19). Whereas the 1994 version of The Stand was at pains to distinguish itself (via budget, scope, casting) from other telefantasy series of the time, including other King miniseries, the 2020 version goes out of its way to remind audiences it is an example of Quality Telefantasy. One of its first official promotional images shows a desolate highway, with series villain Flagg standing atop a crashed motorhome, a clear allusion to AMC’s post-apocalyptic zombie series The Walking Dead. However, The Stand’s status as Quality Telefantasy goes beyond intertextual promotional material. As an example of Quality Telefantasy, the 2020 adaptation rearranges King’s original story into a complex narrative. LINEAR vs COMPLEX NARRATIVE Like the novel on which it is based, the 1994 TV version of The Stand tells its story in a linear fashion. Separated into four 90-minute segments, it was broadcast on ABC over four nights: May 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th. The first two parts depict the collapse of civilization following the release of the virus, as well as the series’ heroes assembling in Boulder, Colorado, where they found a settlement called the Free Zone under the direction of the messianic Mother Abigail. The latter two parts depict a deadly bomb attack on the Boulder Free Zone by ally-turned villain Harold Lauder, after which several of the surviving heroes travel to Las Vegas to confront Flagg, where an atomic bomb destroys the city. In the 2020 version, this straightforward, episodic narrative is complicated by the imposition of a complex, non-linear storytelling structure, which rearranges and extends many of the same events depicted in the novel and 1994 version through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards and stretches the narrative out over nine episodes. This reframes The Stand as a puzzle for viewers to unlock with attentive viewing over the course of the series. In Robert Thompson’s early account of Quality TV series, he lists series’ ‘memory’ and ‘complex’ writing among the qualifiers that separates Quality TV from other, less prestigious TV (14–15). Jeffrey Sconce notes, ‘[t]he very serial elements that have been so long reviled in soaps, pulps, and other “low” genres are now used to increase connotations of “quality”’ (99). Following this logic, approachability or ease of access is often associated with TV’s history as a medium of distraction (Sconce), whereas narrative difficulty is associated with the greater audience engagement of cinema. Because of its often-labyrinthine storytelling, Daniela M. Schlütz describes Quality TV as ‘hard to make sense of and sometimes hard to bear’ (103). She argues this is part of a deliberate strategy wherein audiences are encouraged to undertake the challenge of mastering Quality TV’s interweaving narratives, an ‘intellectually rewarding’ task (103). The more work the audience is required to do to comprehend a complicated and dense Quality TV narrative, the more symbolic value that narrative bestows in return. While Quality Telefantasy series have tended tell long-form stories over the course of several seasons, Quality Telefantasy to series like The Stand series are becoming more common in recent years. Jason Mittell argues that since the 1990s there have been increasing instances of ‘narrative complexity’ in US TV, involving narrative games with the audience and ‘a shifting balance’ between episodic and serial forms (2015: 18). He describes a variety of narrative strategies such as flashforwards and flashbacks that exemplify the complicated nature of narrative complexity (Mittell 2015: 25). Several critics (Hibberd; Feinberg; Sepinwall; Shoemaker) have likened the 2020 Stand’s narrative style to the ABC sci-fi/fantasy series Lost (2004–10), an early predecessor to contemporary Quality Telefantasy and one of Mittell’s pioneering examples of narrative complexity. These complex narrative strategies invite audiences to engage deeply with the stories unfolding. Mittell suggests that this ‘ludic narrative logic’ encourages ‘research, collaboration, analysis, and interpretation’ to get the most out of the viewing experience (2015: 277). Quality Telefantasy series routinely reject narrative closure, and often forgo episodic storytelling entirely in favour of interconnected serialization that helps support the notion of a believable story world. The 2020 version of The Stand rearranges the novel and 1994 TV version’s straight forward, linear story to add narrative complexity to the series. The change from straightforward, linear narrative to complex, non-linear storytelling can be observed through two key plotlines present in all three versions of The Stand, the virus’ escape from a government laboratory and Harold Lauder’s transition from lovestruck teenager to murderous villain. The first episode of each adaptation explains how the virus escaped a government facility. The ABC version begins by showing the above-ground portion of the California military base that houses the virus. Here, story time (time within the diegesis) and discourse time (which diegetic events are displayed, how and in what order) are in relative, linear sync to create a clear, legible narrative for the audience (Mittell 2015: 26). A guard named Campion is informed that the lab below ground has experienced a containment breach and is ordered to lock down the base. Instead, Campion rushes to his nearby home to collect his wife and child. The family escapes the base in their car, the closing gate scraping the side of their speeding vehicle on the way out. The scene then transitions to the action inside the underground lab, and a series of tracking shots shows the entire staff of the lab have died from exposure to the virus. These morbid images are overlaid with the series’ production credits while the band Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ (1976) ironically plays. The following scene shows Campion crashing into a petrol station in Texas days later, where he dies in front of local Stu Redmond (Gary Sinise) and his friends, spreading the virus to the outside world. The series villain Flagg is referenced in this sequence through the presence of a crow hanging around and dialogue from Campion stating the base gate malfunctioned and that he saw a ‘dark man’ on their trip across the country. These scenes neatly and directly explain to the audience in a linear fashion where the virus was created and how it escaped and infected the world. They also introduce protagonist Stu Redmond and indicate his significance as the first person in the story with confirmed immunity. In comparison to the 1994 version’s clear, linear explanation of the virus’ escape, the 2020 Stand depiction of the same events is broken up and shown out of order in its first episode ‘The End’ (2020). Here there is a strong disjuncture between story time and discourse time. The audience is thus invited to piece together the chain of events over the course of the episode, and Flagg’s responsibility for the catastrophe is turned into a startling reveal that concludes the 2020 series’ first episode. After several scenes set months into the story, in the Boulder Free Zone, Stu Redmond is introduced to the audience already in the custody of the US government. Scenes of Stu being interviewed by scientist Dr. Jim Ellis (Hamish Linklater) are interspersed with flashbacks to Stu and his friends’ encounter with Campion at the petrol station. As far as the audience is aware, this is all the result of a tragic accident. It is not until final sequence of the episode that Campion’s escape is depicted. Instead of above ground at the base, he is positioned in a room below ground, monitoring the entrance to the lab through a window. Campion receives a phone call alerting him to a containment breach and is confronted by a fatally infected scientist banging on his window. In response, Campion activates a lockdown, but the heavy automatic door between his station in the lab and the base outside, jams open. The metal door screeches and jitters as if it is being held open by a powerful invisible force. After a moment’s hesitation Campion runs to collect his family. After he leaves his station, the camera pans down to reveal Flagg is casually holding the door open with his boot. The large mechanical door is twisted and dented from the supernatural impact of Flagg’s foot, and slams shut when he releases it. As Campion flees with his family down the highway in their car, they pass Flagg, who appears to be strolling down the road, hitchhiking. As they speed past, the camera pans around until it is facing the car’s rear-view mirror, through which Flagg can be seen sitting in the backseat next to Campion’s infant child. Flagg grins menacingly before the episode cuts to credits. Like King’s novel, the first instalment of the 1994 version presents the series of events that cause the end of the world in a clear, linear fashion. In contrast, the 2020 version remixes these same events into a complex mystery for viewers to ponder throughout the first episode, until a startling reveal confirms the series’ supernatural antagonist is the cause of the viral apocalypse that sets the narrative in motion. In Mittell’s definition, narrative complexity can be observed in several ways, including the presence of ‘narrative special effects’ (2015: 43). Mittell uses the term ‘special effect’ to link the practice to the formal strategy of visual spectacle, which suspends the narrative for a moment of awe. Mittell describes the narrative special effect as a moment when ‘a program flexes its storytelling muscles to confound and amaze a viewer’ (2015: 43). As with the virus’ escape from the military laboratory, Harold Lauder’s transition from pitiful but intelligent nerd to one of the story’s key villains is laid out in markedly different ways in the 1994 and 2020 versions of The Stand. Lauder (Corin Nemec) is introduced early in the first part of the 1994 miniseries when he visits his neighbour Franny and her father (Ken Jenkins) to show them his story has been published in an amateur fiction magazine. The 1994 series initially positions Harold as a comedic nuisance to Franny. He is dressed in an infantile red tracksuit and large glasses. Nemec’s conventional good looks are disguised with excessive acne makeup and a greasy hairstyle. Nemec performs Harold’s dialogue in an awkward, stilted way that explains Franny’s obvious disinterest when he asks her out on a date to an arthouse film festival. Her father makes fun of Harold’s pretentions by mockingly reading out a portion of his writing in the magazine. Nonetheless, when Franny’s father succumbs to the super flu, Harold assists her in burying the body, after which they decide to look for other survivors and embark on a cross-country journey. When audiences next encounter Harold in the second episode of the miniseries, he has donned a comically exaggerated motorcycle outfit that consists of a gaudy studded leather jacket, leather chaps, and snakeskin boots. Later in same second episode, his attitude has improved, his acne cleared up and his costuming has become less comical. It is only once Harold realizes Franny has entered a romantic relationship with Stu Redmond that his comedic function in the story evaporates and his plainly villainous tendencies emerge. In the third episode he is recruited into Flagg’s cohort by Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo) and together they commit an act of terrorism against the Boulder Free Zone. A tragic, gradual downfall told straightforwardly. Unlike the 1994 version’s depiction of Harold Lauder as a dorky young man ‘misled’ by an evil presence (King 1990: 977), the 2020 version jumps around the story’s timeline to reveal a variety of versions of Harold Lauder (Owen Teague), asking the audience to constantly reconsider the character with each new piece of narrative information. This contemporary depiction of Harold is influenced by the rise of the dangerous male ‘involuntary celibate’ (incel) online subculture in recent years which ‘promote[s] anti-feminist beliefs and the need for protection of men’s rights’ (O’Malley et al., 3). In the very first scene of the 2020 series Harold is shown contributing to the Boulder Free Zone community by volunteering to help clear the bodies of flu victims. A flashback then shows him saving Franny’s life after she attempts suicide following the death of her father. However, these promising views of Harold are undercut by another flashback that shows him spying on Franny through a hole in her backyard fence, before furiously masturbating to a stolen photograph of her. More scenes of his time on the Boulder corpse clean-up crew appear to show him creating genuine friendships with his colleagues, and mourning the world they all lost, when he uncovers a stash of old celebrity magazines, including one featuring actor Tom Cruise on the cover. Any good will the audience has gathered towards Harold, or sense that he has shown moral improvement over the series’ timeline is shattered by a subsequent scene late in the episode, where Harold practices ‘charming’ mannerisms in the mirror, mimicking the photo of Cruise he found. A score of sharp horror strings accompanies Teague’s performance: frightening shifts between cold stares and exaggerated smiles. This confirms to audiences that this duplicitous monster is the real Harold. It also reveals that his genial nature in the series’ story time ‘present’ is a carefully created façade, not reflective of a genuine improvement in demeanour. Harold later writes a diary entry plotting murderous revenge on Franny for spurning his advances, and Stu Redmond for ‘taking’ her from him. Harold’s diary entries are present in the 1994 miniseries, but in the 2020 version they more closely resemble a ‘manifesto’ (O’Malley et al., 4). Such manifestos ‘highlighting the [imagined] need to seek revenge on women and masculine men’ are penned by real world incel terrorists like Elliot Rodger, who killed several people in California in 2018 (O’Malley et al., 4). The 1994 version of Harold begins the miniseries as a joke before slowly turning into a villain, whereas the 2020 iteration of Harold is a temporally unmoored puzzle, tied into dangerously real violent, misogynistic behaviours. Despite the appearance of social development and moral improvement, this Harold was always a villain, hiding in plain sight. The audience must piece together the series’ timeline to solve this puzzle. These ‘pleasurable moments of confusion, surprise, and twisty trickery’ constitute a ‘narrative special effect’ (Mittell 2015: 168). Returning to Robert Stam’s understanding of adaptation as dialogic and intertextual, it is also perfectly likely that a portion of the 2020 version of The Stand’s audience will have also seen the 1994 version, read the novel, or both. This assessment was noted by critics such as USA Daily’s Kelly Lawler, who argues the 2020 Stand assumes ‘whoever is watching will have read the book first’. For audiences familiar with other versions of The Stand, the thrill of the narrative effects on display in the 2020 version is not ‘what will happen?’ but ‘how will it happen?’. More than just a creative flourish, the restructuring of The Stand’s story into a complex, non-linear puzzle narrative serves its function as a contemporary Quality Telefantasy series that is worthy of audience’s time, attention and cognitive effort. The bargain all Quality TV, including Quality Telefantasy, strikes with its audience, is that watching and investing rewards this effort with symbolic value. In addition to its complex narrative, The Stand blends traditional expectations of gritty, violent, plausible US TV III Quality TV with spectacular, fantastical genre content. ADAPTATIONS OF VIOLENCE As a piece of dark, post-apocalyptic fantasy, each version of the The Stand necessarily features violence. King’s novel describes the downfall of civilization thanks to a deadly virus, but its human characters inflict just as much damage on one another as the super flu does. For example, in all versions, the US government engages in violent crackdowns on civil unrest, including the murder of protesters and journalists to maintain control of the population. While not as gruesome as the novel, the 1994 ABC adaptation features a surprising amount of carnage given it was restricted by prime-time broadcast TV standards and practices. As Brown notes, ‘Garris…secure[ed] a 15 certificate for the video release by toning down gore, such as when [Campion’s] car crashes into the gas station near the beginning, bodies are recovered in darkness, close-ups focus on figures facing away from the camera and we quickly cut to reaction shots’ (2011: 137). However, the Paramount+ version recreates and even extends the violence present in the novel as a way of demonstrating the lack of creative constraint allowed by its place on a contemporary SVOD platform. Victims of the superflu in the 2020 adaptation suffer (via complex prosthetic makeup) from bloated, distended ‘tube-neck’, which King describes colourfully in his novel as ‘black and swollen as an inner-tube some heedless child had pumped up to the point of bursting’ (1990: 200). As with other examples of Quality Telefantasy, violence is employed to add a sense of gritty realism to fantastical content. King himself implied during development of the 2020 version of The Stand that this spectacular violence, and the budget to depict it convincingly, made for a more authentic adaptation of his novel to the screen (Kennedy). This kind of paratextual information encourages audiences to read this new adaptation as a more ‘direct’ translation of King’s novel, ‘free of all those things that held [him] back’ on 1990s broadcast TV. This is not to say that either TV adaptation is more authentic, or subjectively better. Rather, it is evidence of the discourses of prestige and distinction that Quality TV relies upon for its symbolic value. Promotional paratexts for such series often compare them favourably to some lesser valued other television, in this case even an earlier Quality TV adaptation of the same novel. In addition to more explicitly translating the violence of King’s novel to screen, the 2020 version of The Stand adds new instances of extreme violence that were not present in either the novel or the 1994 miniseries. For example, in the climax of all versions of The Stand, Flagg and his followers are defeated when one of his acolytes erroneously brings a nuclear warhead to Las Vegas, hoping to gain Flagg’s favour. The bomb is then activated by the ‘Hand of God’ (King 1990: 1084), a miraculous electrical occurrence. In King’s novel, the results of the electricity and the bomb’s detonation are only briefly described: ‘Silent white light filled the world’ (King 1990: 1085). It is left to the reader to presume that Flagg and all his followers have been killed in the atomic explosion. The 1994 TV version follows suit in this regard, with Stu Redmond observing a far-off mushroom cloud. In the 2020 version, the Hand of God is a more active force, specifically targeting Flagg’s remaining lieutenants before detonating the bomb that destroys Las Vegas. In an extended sequence in the series’ eighth episode ‘The Stand’ (2020), individual villains Julie Lawry (Katherine McNamara) and Rat Woman (Fiona Douriff) are blown apart in detailed digital effects spectacles. Lawry is vertically bisected by a burning bolt of electricity, while Rat Woman’s torso is exploded by the lightning, her severed head twirling out of frame. Lloyd Henreid (Nat Wolff) is killed when the electrical blasts dislodge a lighting rig, causing it to swing down and messily decapitate him. Though the novel and 1994 TV version leave little doubt as to the fates of the novel’s villains, the 2020 version flaunts its status as unrestricted, fabulously financed Quality TV to show their demise in spectacular, gory detail. King’s 1990 Complete and Uncut edition of The Stand adds an epilogue where the story’s supernatural villain Randall Flagg is reincarnated on a tropical island and convinces the local tribespeople to worship him. This addendum is not present in the 1994 screen version of The Stand, but is adapted in the 2020 version, albeit with the addition of brutal, spectacular violence. Though the novel’s version of events suggests troubling themes of colonialism, and a condescending outlook on indigenous peoples, it is not an explicitly violent scene. Flagg does not demonstrate his otherworldly powers or harm the tribespeople. His presence alone is sufficient to inspire ‘joy and terror’ (King 1990: 1153) in them. As in King’s novel, the 2020 version features Flagg (played by Alexander Skarsgård) inexplicably waking up nude on the shores of a tropical island after his supposed demise in the Las Vegas nuclear explosion. Local tribespeople tentatively approach Flagg from the jungle. Unlike in the novel, the tribespeople are not immediately enraptured by the outsider. Instead, it takes an act of spectacular, gory supernatural violence to earn their worship. First, a local warrior aims a bow at Flagg and shouts threateningly. Flagg responds by sarcastically singing the chorus of US funk band War’s ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ (1975) before the warrior fires an arrow at him. Flagg catches the arrow with uncanny speed, then makes a “finger gun” motion back at the warrior. A gun shot sound is heard, then the warrior’s head explodes as if hit by a high-calibre bullet, the decapitated body collapsing to the ground. Though fantastical, this moment is rendered plausibly visceral via complex digital effects. As in the novel, the scene’s primary function is to suggest the threat Flagg poses has not truly been extinguished. However, by adding a violent death to the scene, the 2020 version of The Stand highlights its freedom from any form of content restriction because of its place on a subscription streaming platform as well as the substantial production values this placement allows. Besides the more typical Quality TV strategy of flaunting content restriction as a sign of distinction and symbolic value, the 2020 version of The Stand depicts the death of major characters with a similar degree of violent spectacle to add stakes and plausibility to its fantastical diegesis. This constitutes a Quality Telefantasy ‘spectacle of realism’ (Lynch 135), wherein fantastical genre content is made more plausible and grounded but also more visually spectacular to convey symbolic value to viewers. Violence, especially the death of major characters as a marker of realism and distinction, has been common in Quality TV since the ascendancy of subscription cable in TV III and its evasion of broadcast content restrictions. However, when deployed by Quality Telefantasy series, major character death has become more common and more spectacular than ever before. This demonstrates the greater lengths to which Quality Telefantasy must go to convince the audience its fantastical worlds have realistic stakes and consequences. Beyond merely popularizing the major character death as a narrative possibility in contemporary TV, Quality Telefantasy has created a new twist on this trope: scenes that feature spectacular decapitation or complete bodily destruction of major characters. In Quality Telefantasy, minor and major characters have their heads lopped off with medieval swords (Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones), smashed in with baseball bats (Glen Rhee in The Walking Dead) or telekinetically exploded (agent Susan Raynor in The Boys, Amazon Prime Video 2019–) with wanton abandon. Not every super-powered decapitation or dragon fire immolation in Quality Telefantasy is a major character death, but almost every major character death involves the spectacular removal of that character’s head or the destruction of their entire body. These spectacles of realism focus on major characters’ bodies, especially their biological vulnerability, to convey a Quality Telefantasy series’ commitment to a realistic depiction of life and death according to common ‘cultural’ expectations (Lynch 32). Whereas ABC’s version of The Stand certainly toyed with the limits of broadcast TV standards in terms of violence to translate King’s novel to 1994 Quality TV, Paramount+’s version gleefully extends the onscreen violence beyond that described in the original novel to present itself as appropriately distinct and challenging given its status as 2020 Quality Telefantasy. Comparing the 2020 version to the 1994 version, some of these major character deaths are closer to their respective violent descriptions in King’s novel, while others are made even more explicitly, photo-realistically violent to satisfy the generic expectations of Quality Telefantasy (Lynch 33). The deaths of two of the novel’s major villains: murderous nerd Harold Lauder and Flagg’s bride Nadine Cross serve as useful examples of this. In all three versions of The Stand, Harold’s death unfolds similarly. After killing several people with a homemade explosive in the Boulder Free Zone, he and Nadine flee to Las Vegas, Flagg’s base of operations. On route, he falls off his motorbike (an accident engineered by Flagg and Nadine) and is mortally injured. After reflecting on his mistakes for a time, Harold commits suicide with a pistol. King describes his death in some detail: first ‘[Harold] put the muzzle of the Colt in his mouth and looked up at the blue sky’ and then ‘He pulled the trigger. The gun went off’ (King 1990: 978). Harold’s body is found later in the novel by Stu Redmond in a gruesome state: ‘The buzzards had worked him over pretty well’ and ‘The .38 was jammed in his mouth like a grotesque lollipop’ (1043). The 1994 TV version shows Harold picking up the gun, before cutting to Stu Redmond experiencing a psychic vision of his death. Stu flinches and a gunshot is heard. He then states out loud to his companions: ‘It’s Harold, he’s dead’. Unlike in the novel, Harold’s body is not discovered. In the 2020 version, the audience is privy both to Harold’s death and its gruesome aftermath, in the episode ‘The Walk’ (2020). A wide shot shows Harold placing the pistol in his mouth before a spray of blood is ejected via digital effects from the back of his head. Harold’s body is found, this time by Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo), and the buzzards (only present on the score of the 1994 scene) have indeed ‘worked him over’. A detailed prop corpse of Harold shows his face has been eaten away by the carrion. His eyes, nose and lips are gone, so his face resembles a fleshy, flayed skull. In this instance, where the 1994 version omitted the violence described in King’s novel for the sake of standards and practices of broadcast TV, the 2020 version hews closely to King’s description, demonstrating both the time, money and creative freedom allowed by contemporary SVOD distribution. It also sticks to Quality Telefantasy genre expectations where deaths, even via fantastical means, are rendered gruesomely plausible and finite as a signifier of ‘cultural’ and ‘perceptual’ realism (Lynch 32–33) Like Harold, Nadine is killed in both TV versions and King’s novel. However, the depiction of her death diverges wildly in each. In the book, Nadine, pregnant with Flagg’s demonic offspring goads him into throwing her off the top of a Las Vegas skyscraper, killing both her and the unborn monster. In King’s depiction, he writes that Flagg’s ‘hands slammed down on [Nadine’s] shoulders, snapping both collarbones like pencils’ before he throws her to her death, where she ‘went down as silently as a defective skyrocket’ (King 1990: 1016). In the 1994 miniseries, Nadine leaps off the building herself after taunting Flagg, but like the novel the impact of her fall is not explicitly represented, occurring out of frame, and accompanied by a muffled thud and the shocked reaction of an onlooker. A later scene shows blood (but no body) being hosed from the Vegas sidewalk. In contrast the 2020 version makes a lengthy, multi-part, slow-motion spectacle of Nadine’s death, and follows it up with the addition of a new and grisly confirmation of just how dead the character is. In the 2020 version of her death scene in the penultimate episode of the series, Nadine (Amber Heard) breaks the skyscraper window herself. A close-up digital effects shot shows Nadine shattering the glass in slow-motion, her momentum carrying her out the window. Nadine’s fall is shown from several angles, using long and mid-shots. Her white wedding gown billows elegantly as she falls, surrounded by shards of the shattered window. She then plummets through the glass ceiling of Flagg’s casino headquarters, slamming into the empty swimming pool in its centre, where the camera lingers on her crumpled corpse. A final close-up focuses on her glass-studded foot and the casino’s neon lights reflected in a growing pool of blood. This extended death scene (and the demonic Flagg’s furious reaction) would seem to confirm that both Nadine and the unborn child she carries are dead, beyond even Flagg’s supernatural powers to restore. However, in an additional sequence, Nadine’s severed, mangled head is displayed to confirm her demise beyond a shadow of a doubt. Later in the same episode, Flagg’s underling Rat Woman presents a horrified Larry Underwood with the head on a dinner platter. The gory but spectacular prop head is the result of extensive, detailed practical effects work that recreates the recognizable eyes of actor Amber Heard. The rest of the face is a ruin of exposed bone, teeth and blood. As is typical of other spectacles of realism in Quality Telefantasy series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, the combination of spectacular effects, cinematography, editing and performance combine to confirm the finality of major character death within a heightened fantastical diegesis, thereby rendering it (in one way at least) plausible to the audience. This is an important way in which Quality Telefantasy renders fantastical, and historically undervalued genre material with the same symbolic value long applied to more traditionally realistic Quality TV series like The Sopranos or Mad Men. CONCLUSION This article has used the two TV adaptations of Stephen King’s novel The Stand to examine how the concept of ‘Quality TV’ has changed between two distinct eras of US television: TV II (1978–95) and TV IV (2010–). I have argued that King’s novel provides a kind of baseline against which to examine the wider industrial and cultural context in which these two adaptations were produced. I have highlighted the rise of Quality Telefantasy as a distinct sub-genre of Quality TV wherein fantastical content is presented as symbolically valuable to audiences through a variety of aesthetic and narrative techniques. When compared to the relatively straightforward 1994 ABC adaptation, 2020’s Paramount+ adaptation tells its story in a narratively complex way and heightens the violence to add blockbuster production value and a sense of gritty, realistic stakes to King’s grand fantastical tale. As this article has demonstrated, each adaptation of The Stand is not only in intertextual dialogue with King’s novel, but also the wider US television industries of 1994 and 2020. Of course, King is not the only author whose work has been widely, and frequently adapted to screen, and so I propose this approach might be applied to other repeat adaptations to examine the context in which they are produced. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been so frequently adapted for TV by the BBC, that it provides an opportunity to track and examine not only the commercial and creative strategies of the national broadcaster (as in Oldham), but prestige UK TV over the decades. Further, as Ashley Polasek has already demonstrated, a single widely adapted literary character like Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes or, I suggest, Tom Clancy’s super spy Jack Ryan could be used in such a manner to provide evidence of wider creative, cultural and industrial changes in Quality TV. Familiar, recognizable stories and characters are more valuable than ever to risk-averse media producers. 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Journal

AdaptationOxford University Press

Published: Jun 20, 2022

References