Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top of the Rock

Good TV shows were meant to be. Bad TV shows? They were created by committee. That pretty much sums up this book.

Eschewing a "prose" style, it reads more like a television documentary. (Hmm, I guess the subject matter has something to do with that...) We have numerous snippets from writers, actors, producers and "suits" involved in NBC productions. We hear about shows like Cheers and Seinfeld got started from nowhere, and how they eventually ended. The theme is always "let the creative talent take risks and do something they enjoy doing." All the talent seemed to get along great on these shows, so it must of worked.

What we don't hear much about is shows that failed. There is also very little about friction on the sets or problems with production. This is your "Entertainment Weekly" fluff piece rather than a true behind the scenes look. Everybody got along and was just perfect for the part. The occasional removal from the cast is usually due to external factors (such as a Law and Order actor getting fired so they can bring in a woman to help the female ratings.)

While there is not a whole lot about failures, there is just enough detail about the goings-on in television to help you feel like an "insider." The narrative style just doesn't allow patronizing explanations. However, the many accounts from different angles help to get a feel of the process and structures that go into television production.

The time period for the reign of Warren Littlefield at the head of NBC. This time happens to coincide with the run of Seinfeld and NBCs time at the top of the ratings. It was also perhaps that last hurrah for broadcast television. Since then, the internet and cable profligation has provided many new options. There is not nearly as much "universal" as there once was.

All is a nice documentary, with Littlefield letting everyone else use their voice to tell the story. He is more of a "collator", organizing things to tell his story. At the very end of the book, he finally gets out his vendetta. He feels that he was unjustly canned from NBC, and that after his firing the network went down the toilet. This bitterness at the end distracts from what is otherwise a bit of nice entertainment. (Perhaps he should have been grateful for the firing. Otherwise, he would have had to live with NBC falling as broadcast viewership plummeted, reality shows took off, and "high quality programming" became uneconomical.)

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