Monday, April 20, 2009

Television with the 'koffs

Last week, I read two very different books that together span the past three decades of network television.

The Last Great Ride by Brandon Tartikoff and Charles Leerhsen - Tartikoff is often lauded as the programming genius who brought NBC back to life in the 1980s, leaving a legacy of popular series including The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, Hill Street Blues, and many more. I grew up with these shows, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is written in an anecdotal format rather than chronological, which suits the material well. The style is conversational; it's like having dinner with Tartikoff and hearing him recount tales from his career. Although the content is obviously dated, anyone who watched prime-time TV in the 1980s should love this book.

Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing by Jeffrey Stepakoff - This author's career began as Tartikoff's was ending (with a couple years of overlap). Billion-Dollar Kiss is more chronological than The Last Great Ride, and it also provides much more historical context. Rather than just telling about his own experiences, Stepakoff devotes many pages to the evolution of the television industry and the Writers Guild of America. He starts working near the end of the independent studio era and then describes the effects of deregulation in 1996, followed by the stock market crash of 2000 and the rise of "reality" programming. Along the way, he gives insight into the daily life of a TV writer. Although Dawson's Creek figures prominently in the subtitle and in Stepakoff's career, this book isn't really "about" that series (which was fine with me since I never watched it). Billion-Dollar Kiss is a good history and description of the TV writing world that should interest anyone curious about how TV series are made, especially someone considering a career in the industry.

Current tally: 33 books finished, 28 books acquired

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