Mark Lawson's analysis of why 19th century novels (a select few, anyway) make attractive options for tv and movie producers may be found here. It's an interesting read if you've been wondering why the Austen / Dickens / Brontë juggernaut seems to roll along with only an occasional veering off into the odd siding. His chief argument comes at the end:
At their simplest level, each of these books features a couple whose union is impossible or dangerous: Cathy and Heathcliff face the bar of class and propriety, Anna and Vronsky challenge the adultery taboo, and Pip and Estella are thwarted not only by their starkly different social backgrounds but by her bizarre guardian... Fiction is driven by friction and taboo but, in most parts of contemporary society, we have created a society in which there are few obstacles to people doing what they want or being with the person they desire.
In other words, we've torn down the walls so convenient for characters to smash into, so contemporary life isn't interesting enough. Which is to say modern moral ambivalence makes for bad television.
It's arguable, I suppose, to a point. Really what he means is we like straw men to tilt at, particularly in these troubled times. It is, after all, excellent fun catharsis to watch people -- particularly women in corsets -- be persecuted for loving the wrong people, and yet how pleasing it is to think that it could never happen in this day and age. Or at least not in those clothes.
Update: Meanwhile, over at The Independent, D J Taylor wonders why we're still taking the 19th century's phone calls.