In this day and age of TMZ, Perez, and hundreds of other blogs devoted to telling us everything about an actor or singer as it is happening, actual books promising to dish behind-the-scenes tales from years ago seem a little quaint. Still, I do rather enjoy immersing myself in an extended yarn from someone in the know telling me naughty (and not so naughty) little secrets-especially when it pertains to my beloved television.
So while a lot of you fellow pop culturists are eagerly awaiting the opening day of The Dark Knight Rises, I will be reading Warren Littlefield’s NBC tell all: Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV.
For those of us who grew up on NBC in the 1990s, Warren is well known and for the most part beloved. For you younger pop culture acolytes who missed his glorious tenure, Warren was THE man who gave us hits such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Frasier, Friends, Law and Order and ER; quirky gems like Blossom, NewsRadio, Wings (ah, Wings!) and 3rd Rock from the Sun. Without him there wouldn’t have been a West Wing for Martin Sheen to rule over, Debra Messing would still only be known for FOX’s Ned and Stacy instead of Will and Grace, and Seinfeld, on which Warren was famously parodied in as the Elaine obsessed NBC executive Russell Dalrymple, would never have existed to populate much of the modern pop culture lexicon.
Now don’t expect a complete pulling back of the curtain to reveal everything about how the sausage of 1990s NBC was made; the man doesn’t want to burn all his bridges if he wants to keep working. However, that isn’t to say that there won’t be quite a few juicy moments from behind-the-scenes about people who no longer care and/or who Warren doesn’t mind offending to make this a worthwhile read. I mean, if there isn’t what was the point of writing the book in the first place?
And if you find yourself not completely satisfied and want more television gossip or just to enhance your understanding of the television battleground that was being fought in the 1990s and early 2000s, I suggest the following titles that read better than any steamy beach read-including whatever shade of grey…
Desperate Networks by Bill Carter
Desperate Networks is practically a primer for those looking to understand the big four networks during their early to mid 2000 evolution especially the birth of CBS’s Survivor, FOX’s growth into more than the bratty little red headed stepchild of it’s 3 older siblings, and ABC’s struggle with development due to the merger with Disney. Which brings me to…
Disney War by James B. Stewart.
You’ll never look at Mickey Mouse again once you read about the dealings going on at the company from the mid 1980s to 2006, especially the rise and fall of Disney Chairman and CEO, Michael Eisner. While it takes a while it to become relevant to those interested in just the television arena with Disney’s purchase of the ABC properties, I guarantee you won’t be bored with the movie happenings as it’s just as crazy a soap opera as what went down with the mouse’s overtaking ABC. (And if you’re looking for more enhanced reading related to this book, might I suggest, The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks by Nicole LaPorte. You’ll want to read about Jeff Katzenberg after his, ahem, ‘departure’ from Disney)
Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN by Susanne Daniels and Cynthia Littleton
Ever wonder why The WB decided to merge with UPN? So did many of the employees. An executive from The WB recounts the building up of the network, how it found its voice, and the twists and turns (and need for revenge by a well known big four network president) that led to its untimely demise.
BONUS BOOK: Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson’s Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing by Jeffrey Stepakoff
An in-the-trenches account of a TV writer working in Hollywood. Stepakoff takes you from his struggling early days as a writer through to his tenure on Dawson’s Creek where we get a writer’s POV of network decisions that often break, not make, a show.
I wouldn’t say you need to read any one book before the other or in any particular order. The fun is in already knowing how it all turns out and the horror and humor is in how these smart, if sometimes bumbling wheeling and dealing moguls managed to get there in the end.
- Behind the scenes of ABC (Alias, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives scoop!)
- A tell all about The WBs Buffy The Vampire Slayer
- Dirty Politics: FOX News, CNN, MSNBC