This article on the adaptation of Russian "literary classics" to tv concludes:
One argument that producers brought forward when defending TV adaptation of classics a few years ago, when the trend had just started, was that teenagers who would have never read a book would at least watch a TV series based on it and get acquainted with literature classics in this way. And that argument seems to be valid. The rationale of those who argue that contemporary TV adaptations of classical novels are vulgar and simplistic may be right to a certain degree. But they are definitely missing one important point: literary classics have become part of pop culture and should be viewed in that way, not like something sacred.
What exactly does it mean to "get acquainted with literature classics" by watching a tv show? Simply to know that they exist? This was for a long time one of the implicit justifications of "exposing" students to great works of literature--make them aware that these books exist so that they might know where the "best" examples of human expression can be found, might be able to follow a conversation in which these illustrious names are mentioned, or might even--gasp!--one day read the books and take them seriously. But I doubt that E.D. Hirsch understood "cultural literacy" quite to mean that "literary classics have become part of pop culture and should be viewed in that way, not like something sacred."
I've tried as earnestly as I can to understand the logic behind the notion that it's good that "teenagers who would have never read a book would at least watch a TV series based on it." This is also a long-standing justification both for making adaptations of "literary classics" and for showing such films and programs to students as either a supplement to or an outright replacement for reading the works in question, but it has never made sense to me. It's based on the assumption that "literary classics" (specifically works of fiction) are stories about characters and that, since these visual media are able to tell stories about characters, if you faithfully tell the stories and present all the characters you've adequately reproduced the book. (Or even if you haven't, it's not a big deal because viewers will still get "acquainted" with it.) While it's true that some "literary classics," especially those written in the 18th and 19th centuries, have stories and characters, surely it isn't the case that they are conveyed to us in the same way from "classic" to "classic." What gets lost in the adaptation is narrative voice, fluctuations in point of view, subtleties in characterization, shades of description. Most importantly, what gets lost is the encounter with language. And this is unavoidably true even in adaptations that are not "vulgar and simplistic."
To believe that adaptations are acceptable substitutes for the works adapted is to believe that the experience of watching a film or television show, even the most intelligent and well-wrought shows, and reading a novel are essentially the same. Or at least the differences are negligible enough that the "essence" of the work is still getting through. It seems to me an implicit devaluation of what is actually the distinguishing feature of fiction--its status a patterned prose, as writing--to maintain that it can be translated into visually realized images without sacrificing its essence. A given adaptation of The Master and Margarita may work on its own, visual, terms. It may even be more successful than another adaptation at capturing something recognizably "Bulgakovian" in the treatment. But it still isn't The Master and Margarita, and viewers of the film who don't become readers of the novel still don't really know what it's all about.
A good television or film adaptation can certainly provide pleasures of its own, but they are the pleasures available in that medium. A good film requires careful attention, just as does a good novel, but the kind of attention being paid is not the kind required by fiction. It can provoke us into immersing ourselves into the mise-en-scene (in a way perhaps analogous to painting but not continuous with it, since the image moves) or force us to keep track of the information conveyed through editing, but this is ultimately the work of the eye and ear keeping pace with appearances. We have to look and listen. Fiction requires a kind of looking, but even our visual registering of word, phrase and sentence, and the way these elements arrange themselves in a "style" distinctive to the author we're reading, is more an internally-oriented mental process than an externally-oriented process of sorting sights and sounds (although a kind of "listening" is also certainly involved, as language manifests itself to our mental "ear"). Our imaginations then have to finish the job the writer has started. We have to mentally transform the words, phrases, and sentences into the "actions" or "thoughts" or "emotions" of the "characters" we agree are being brought to a kind of life. (Films, of course, do this work for us.) And we have to keep straight the way in which the characters and their actions are being presented to us in a particular sort of formal arrangement, an arrangement that is again mostly a phenomenon of our mental engagement with the text. Sometimes--as in some modernist and postmodernist fiction--this formal arrangement overrides our immediate connection to the characters and the actions and has to be processed before we can even comprehend the characters and actions.
I don't say that fiction is superior to film (I have a background in film study and criticism myself), but to the extent it makes the kind of demands on us I have described, it certainly is different in its aesthetic and psychological effects. For a "literary classic" to finally be appreciated, it has to be appreciated as literary. It probably doesn't do any harm to people (as opposed to literature) when they're allowed to be "acquainted" with literature through film, but I can't see that it does them much good, either.