Friday, April 13, 2012

"top of the rock" by warren littlefield with t.r. pearson

About the book (from the back cover): Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, ER, Cheers, Law & Order, Will & Grace…Here is the funny, splashy, irresistible insiders’ account of the greatest era in television history — told by the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the network executives who made it happen…and watched it all fall apart.

Warren Littlefield was the NBC President of Entertainment who oversaw the Peacock Network’s rise from also-ran to a division that generated a billion dollars in profits. In this fast-paced and exceptionally entertaining oral history, Littlefield and NBC luminaries including Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wylie, Debra Messing, Jack Welch, Jimmy Burrows, Helen Hunt, and Dick Wolf vividly recapture the incredible era of Must See TV.

From 1993 through 1998, NBC exploded every conventional notion of what a broadcast network could accomplish with the greatest prime-time line-up in television history. On Thursday nights, a cavalcade of groundbreaking comedies and dramas streamed into homes, attracting a staggering 75 million viewers and generating more revenue than all other six nights of programming combined. The road to success, however, was a rocky one. How do you turn a show like Seinfeld, one of the lowest testing pilots of all time, into a hit when the network overlords are constantly warring, or worse, drowning in a bottle of vodka?

Top of the Rock is an addictively readable account of the risky business decisions, creative passion, and leaps of faith that made Must See TV possible. Chock full of delicious behind-the-scenes anecdotes that run the gamut from hilarious casting and programming ploys to petty jealousies and drug interventions, you’re in for a juicy, unputdownable read.

My take: As someone who grew up watching nearly all of the "Must See TV" shows (even the truly terrible ones like Veronica's Closet), I couldn't wait to get my hands on former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield's new book. And for the most part, this book lived up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

Though the book is "written" by Littlefield and T.R. Pearson, it really is made up of interviews with producers, writers, actors, and NBC executives. I think this format works quite well, as it gives multiple perspectives, rather than just Littlefield's. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Mad About You, Friends, Frasier, and ER—because those were "my" shows.

The very end of the book falters a bit, though. The last chapter talks about what happened to NBC following Littlefield's firing, but it really just devolves into a giant Jeff Zucker bash session. Obviously, Zucker made some questionable (OK, downright laughable) programming decisions, but to end the book on that note overshadowed a bit of the enjoyment I gained from reading the rest of the book. I also wish some of the missing NBC stars—like Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and George Clooney—would have been involved, but the number of power players who were part of the book is pretty impressive. This book is a must-read for pop culture junkies like me, and I definitely recommend it! 4 stars.

Note: There is quite a bit of foul language in this book—since this isn't the type of book I normally review, I thought I should give fair warning.

About the authors: Warren Littlefield is the former NBC president of entertainment. Previous to that, he was the NBC comedy executive who developed such hit shows as The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He currently runs his own television production company.

T. R. Pearson is the author of fourteen novels, including A Short History of a Small Place and Warwolf. This is his fifth nonfiction book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from through its Vine reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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