Recommended: Top of the Rock
Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by Warren Littlefield with T.R. Pearson is the closest thing you’re your gonna get to an entertainment industry summer beach read. It’s the history of Must See TV, NBC’s dominance of the Thursday night network TV landscape during the period from 1993 to 1998.
As constructed by Warren Littlefield, President of NBC’s entertainment division at the time, the story is a compilation of pieces of interviews with the stars, writers, producers, directors, and studio network executives who were part of that period in television history. Starting with “Cheers,” and including “The Cosby Show,” “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You,” “Fraiser,” “Friends,” “ER,” and “Will & Grace,” this book takes you through the creative processes and business machinations that brought those shows to life, put them on the air, and made them hits. Development, casting, shooting pilots, testing, sometimes recasting, picking up, airing, and reaching a pinch-me level of success with each show… You as the reader are along for the ride.
The formatting is similar to Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by Tom Shales, though less bogged down by the multitude of voices covering the same ground. The tone and pacing bring to mind Peter Bart’s The Gross: The Hits, The Flops: The Summer That Ate Hollywood, about the summer 1998 movie season, and Bill Carter’s glimpse into network television, Desperate Networks, though without as much expert analysis. Warren Littlefield is the most dominant presence and it’s great to have an insider guiding us through this unfamiliar terrain, but it would’ve been nice to have an objective voice giving context and critique as well.
That said, Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV is a fast read and a glimpse behind-the-scenes in network television that you rarely get. If you are a student of the industry – and if you strive to work in it or are working your way up in it already, I suggest you become one – this will be a worthy read. And seriously, you could take it to the beach. It’s that much fun.
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