10 TV Adaptations That Completely Changed The Tone Of The Source Material
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10 TV Adaptations That Completely Changed The Tone Of The Source Material


  • TV adaptations can change the tone of beloved source material for various reasons, sometimes well-received, but other times controversial.
  • Examples like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Riverdale show how TV series can update and modernize their source material.
  • Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sherlock successfully recontextualize original material for a contemporary audience with new twists.



Often, when a beloved comic, novel, or movie, received the television adaptation treatment, the result was a TV series that completely changed the tone of the source material. This can happen for many different reasons, and, in some circumstances, the changes were well received, and it made sense for the television series to go in a new different when it came to the atmosphere and tone of the show. However, other times, the changes were more controversial, and audiences were disappointed with how the beloved source had been tampered with and changed.

One example was the recent release of Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which had big shoes to fill and was inevitably compared to the beloved cartoon it was based on, as well as the disappointing live-action movie adaptation. Other series, such as Riverdale and Sherlock, made changes to update their source material for contemporary times and ensure the show was more in line with modern expectations. There were plenty of TV adaptations that completely changed the tone of their source material.

10 Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024)

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 – 2008)

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Live-Action)

Based on the acclaimed animated Nickelodeon television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender is an action-adventure fantasy series developed by Albert Kim. The series follows Aang, a young man training to harness the four elements to live up to the title of Avatar – the one who will restore balance to the world.

Gordon Cormier , Dallas Liu , Kiawentiio , Ian Ousley , Daniel Dae Kim , Paul Sun-Hyung Lee

Release Date
February 22, 2024


Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender did a much better job at capturing the essence of the beloved cartoon than the M. Night Shyamalan movie, but the switch from animation to realism inevitably had a drastic impact on the tone. The visual effects of the latest Avatar were impressive, but they lacked the zany charm of the show. Aang, Katara, and Sokka at their core were the same, but their expressive characterizations and burgeoning friendships were less compelling. Time will tell how this new Avatar lives up to the original, but the tone was certainly different.

9 The 100 (2014 – 2020)

The 100 by Kass Morgan

Clarke Griffin and the other members of The 100 standing on the battlefield in the season 1 finale

The 100

The 100 is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic TV series set ninety-seven years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization. When a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors send one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet, they discover that Earth is still inhabited. Now constantly in a state of power flux with warring clans, cannibals, and mountain-dwellers, the juveniles must attempt to survive while re-establishing contact with the Ark.

Devon Bostick , Christopher Larkin , Marie Avgeropoulos , Sachin Sahel , Richard Harmon , Chelsey Reist , Henry Ian Cusick , Bob Morley , Jarod Joseph , Paige Turco , Adina Porter , Ricky Whittle , Eliza Taylor , Isaiah Washington , Lindsey Morgan , Tasya Teles

Release Date
March 19, 2014


The post-apocalyptic series The 100 changed a lot of things from the novels and was a much darker interpretation of the young adult series. Focusing on 100 juvenile delinquents who have returned to earth following a nuclear apocalypse characters like Bellamy and Wells were completely different in the books and major plotlines involving the Grounders only ever occurred on the show, which had a major impact on the tone of each version. The 100 carved out its own identity outside the series it was based on, and in some cases added extra depth and nuance to its characters.

8 Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

A screengrab of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers and Eliza Dushku as Faith in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3 episode

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a supernatural comedy-drama series released in 1997. The show follows the exploits of Buffy, a woman born into a line of “Slayers” destined to do battle with vampires, demons, and monsters. Aided by her close group of friends and a Watcher who helps her hone her craft, the crew solves mysteries and battles the forces of evil to protect their town – and the world.

Sarah Michelle Gellar , Nicholas Brendon , Alyson Hannigan , Charisma Carpenter , Dan Rubin , David Boreanaz , Seth Green , James Marsters

Release Date
March 10, 1997


The beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series was based on a 1992 movie written by Joss Whedon. A vampire comedy film, the tone was drastically different from than series and the original Buffy sorely lacked the clever high school allegories of the series. Sarah Michelle Geller’s iconic performance as Buffy Summers felt much more convincing than Kristy Swanson’s original take on the character. To its credit, the full lore and depth of the Buffyverse had not yet been developed when the movie was released, and the show benefited from correcting the tonal mistakes of the past.

7 Riverdale (2017 – 2023)

Archie Comics (1941 – 2020)

Archie leaves Riverdale in season 3


A darker take on Archie, Betty, Veronica, and their friends from the Archie Comics series, Riverdale is a CW supernatural mystery series that sees the group trying to illuminate the truth surrounding various strange occurrences and murders in the titular town. When a teenage girl is found dead in the once-quiet town, the event starts a series of ever-growing mysteries that ultimately lead to darker secrets in the town’s history. Led by Archie, the Riverdale gang will attempt to navigate their new normal while dealing with all of the drama that comes with being high school teenagers.

Camila Mendes , Marisol Nichols , Ashleigh Murray , Cole Sprouse , Ross Butler , Madelaine Petsch , K.J. Apa , Luke Perry , Lili Reinhart , casey cott

Release Date
January 26, 2017


The CW teen series Riverdale was a much different beast than the tame Archie comic book source material as it reimagined the town of Riverdale as a mysterious, sinister, and secretive place with more in common with Twin Peaks than its lighthearted origins. The darker tone of the Riverdale series was much more palatable to a contemporary audience than the teen antics of the Archie comics, which had their origins as far back as the 1940s and came from a time when the subversive themes of corruption, crime, and murder would have been less acceptable in media aimed at teens.

6 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – 2020)

Archie Comics (1941 – 2020) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996 – 2003)

Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) stands by an apple tree in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Based on the Archie comic series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a Netflix supernatural horror series that follows Sabrina Spellman, a young half-witch, half-human that is coming into her powers in her teenage years. To protect her friends, family, and the world itself, Sabrina will have to harness her powers and ignore the calls from her darker side to embrace her evil potential fully and instead use her powers for good. Despite the series cancellation in 2020, the show’s story was continued in The Occult World of Sabrina, a comic book serial. 

You can buy the seasons for just $9.99 for Prime Day. 

Kiernan Shipka , Ross Lynch , Lucy Davis , Chance Perdomo , Michelle Gomez , Jaz Sinclair , Tati Gabrielle , Adeline Rudolph , Richard Coyle , Miranda Otto

Release Date
October 26, 2018


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had its origins in the Archie comic book, although, in the collective cultural memory the 1990s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch was also an important piece of the source material. However, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was completely different from both releases in terms of tone and embraced a much darker aesthetic that featured a Gothic and eerie atmosphere. While Sabrina’s sitcom star Melissa Joan Harte never appeared in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the show did pay homage to its predecessor with cameos from the original Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda actresses.

5 Sherlock (2010 – 2017)

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes and Watson walking together in His Last Bow


In this incarnation of Sherlock from creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman assume the roles of Sherlock and Watson as they establish their partnership and begin solving strange mysteries throughout the U.K. and beyond. Set in a more 2010’s modern setting, Sherlock’s eccentric and complex nature is accentuated as he solves seemingly supernatural crimes with unparalleled intellect while struggling to connect with others on a human level. Meanwhile, Watson blogs the stories summarizing their cases while building a strained but caring friendship with his new partner.

Release Date
August 8, 2010


By reimagining the Victorian detective Sherlock Holmes in present-day London, the BBC mystery series Sherlock was tonally quite different from the original Arthur Conan Doyle Stories. While the intriguing mysteries, strong writing, and compelling characterizations of the source material were still on display in Sherlock the modern setting allowed the series to incorporate technology, social issues, and cultural references that made the series feel more relevant and modern. The tonal shift from Doyle’s writings to the modernity of the Benedict Cumberbatch-led story took the best of what made the originals so timeless and recontextualized them for a 21st-century viewer.

4 The Leftovers (2014 – 2017)

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

The Leftovers

The Leftovers is a three-season drama that follows a group of people as they deal with the effects of the sudden disappearance of 2% of the word’s population. It was created by Lost co-producer Damon Lindelof and Election writer Tom Perrotta, with famous actors such as Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Margaret Qualley, and Justin Theroux in the ensemble cast.

Justin Theroux , Amy Brenneman , Christopher Eccleston , Liv Tyler , Chris Zylka , Margaret Qualley , Carrie Coon , Emily Meade , Amanda Warren , Ann Dowd , Michael Gaston , Max Carver

Release Date
June 29, 2014


The Leftovers was based on a novel by Tom Perrotta who would co-create the show with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof. While the plot of the novel and the first season of The Leftovers were the same, the tone of the series was vastly different as, in the book, Kevin Garvey was the mayor and not the Mapleton chief of police. From the rituals of the Guilty Remnant cult to the characters’ motivations, The Leftovers series made several significant changes and leaned more heavily into the surrealist and psychological consequences of the “Sudden Departure”, which eliminated 2% of the world’s population.

3 Westworld (2016 – 2022)

Westworld (1973)

HBO’s Westworld S5 Cut Costs Secretly Explain Netflix’s Cancellation Curse


HBO’s Westworld is a dystopian science fiction western that is based on the Michael Crichton-directed film, Westworld. The series centers on high-paying guests who visit a western theme park full of human-like androids to live out wild fantasies. Westworld would later introduce a futuristic mid-21st century where the world is run by an artificial intelligence called Rehoboam. The series was incredibly popular during its four-season run but was canceled by HBO in November 2022.

Anthony Hopkins , Evan Rachel Wood , Shannon Woodward , Ed Harris , James Marsden , Jimmi Simpson , Jeffrey Wright , Tessa Thompson , Thandie Newton , Rodrigo Santoro

Release Date
October 2, 2016



The tone of the HBO series Westworld was far more intricate and psychological than the original 1973 movie version by writer and director Michael Crichton. The television adaptation was made several decades later and took the premise of the original Westworld to create a compelling science fiction narrative around modern society’s complicated relationship with technology, artificial intelligence, and the nature of free will. For the Westworld series creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the original movie appeared as more of a jumping-off point to explore concepts and ideas that were not even part of the public conversation in 1973.

2 Wynonna Earp (2016 – 2021)

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp and Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday in Wynonna Earp
Custom Image by Yailin Chacon

Wynonna Earp

Based on a comic book series by Beau Smith, Wynonna Earp tells the story of the titular heroine who is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp. The series follows Wynonna’s return to her hometown, where she must do battle with the reanimated criminals previously killed by Earp. Aided by her sister, her great-great-grandfather’s immortal partner Doc Holiday, and a member of the US Marshals, Wynonna works to keep Purgatory safe from the revenants. 

Melanie Scrofano , Tim Rozon , Shamier Anderson , Katherine Barrell , dominique provost-chalkley

Release Date
April 1, 2016


While Wynonna Earp was based on a comic book series by Beau Smith, the true source material for the Western horror series was the real Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp and the dentist and gambler Doc Holliday. Wynonna Earp told a fictional story about the great-great-granddaughter of Earp and an immortal Doc Holliday in contemporary times that acted as an homage to classic Western movies while also exhibiting horror and supernatural tones. A thrilling mix of multiple genres, Wynonna Earp used real history as a springboard to tell an entirely unique story.

1 Bates Motel (2013 – 2017)

Psycho by Robert Bloch and Psycho (1960)

Bates Motel

Bates Motel is an A&E original series that acts as a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic, Psycho. The TV show centers on Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), who, with his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga), move across the country and buy a motel. However, Norman’s psyche quickly begins to unravel as he struggles with his abnormal relationship with his mother.

Vera Farmiga , Freddie Highmore , Max Thieriot

Release Date
April 18, 2013


The A&E series Bates Motel acted as an origin story for the character of Norman Bates set in contemporary times that used both the original 1959 Robert Bloch novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie Psycho as its source material. Different from both the novel and the movie in terms of tone, by fleshing out the backstory of Norman Bates and his relationship with his mother Norma, Bates Motel became a compelling mix of teen drama, murder mystery, and psychological character study. A fresh take on the well-worn Psycho series, Bates Motel carved out its own identity throughout its five-season run.

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