TV book review: 'Top of the Rock'

Monday, 02 July 2012 10:30 AM Written by 

top_of_the_rock_coverOne of the downsides of writing about TV is that it means you have time to read because you're always watching TV. I'm not complaining, I love TV, but I do have a pretty good excuse why I'm late to the party writing about Warren Littlefield's "Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV" ($27.95, Doubleday) with T.R. Pearson.

Littlefield, a former NBC Entertainment president, chronicles the highs and lows of his career running NBC in an entertaining, readable if not particularly illuminating look at how the sausage gets made in TV land.

Read more after the jump. ...

Littlefield was still running NBC Entertainment during my first Television Critics Association press tour trip in 1997 but he was deposed shortly after that. In terms of dirt, Littlefield's book takes aim at two targets repeatedly: Don Ohlmeyer, another former NBC executive who has always had a nasty reputation, and Jeff Zucker, who followed after Littlefield and pretty much ruined the network.

"From the first minute I met Zucker, I knew he was a guy who didn't love TV. He didn't love entertainment. Didn't love Hollywood," says Steve Levitan, co-creator of "Modern Family" who oversaw NBC's "Just Shoot Me" during the Must See TV era. 

"Top of the Rock" is told in oral history style, one quote after another. It strikes me as somewhat lazy writing that gets the job done relaying anecdotes.

The book introduces readers to executive nicknames for NBC hits ("Wings" was called "Cheers Lite") and some past NBC stars are candid about their career upsets, including Lisa Kudrow, who talks about getting fired from the "Frasier" pilot (she initially had the Roz role) before landing on "Friends." Megan Mullally talks about auditioning for the Elaine role on "Seinfeld" and how Julia Louis-Dreyfus got not only the part but is still married to Mullally's first boyfriend.

And there's a lot of accusations about network TV execs being so gosh darned great back in the '90s, unlike today, which fits Littlefields preening, self-aggrandizing narrative. David Kohan, co-creator of "Will & Grace," even trashes his new boss at CBS, which just picked up his show "Partners" last week.

"We were at a meeting recently for a show we were doing with the brass of a network. By far the most dominant voice was the sales guy, who I've never met and probably will never see again. And he was giving us notes about what would work and what wouldn't," Kohan says. "And this company shall remain CBS. Les Moonves [president and CEO of CBS] wasn't even talking. And I remember walking out of that meeting saying, 'Why are we listenting to that guy?'"

For fans of TV who enjoy peeking behind the curtain, "Top of the Rock" offers a breezy, enjoyable trip into the behind the scenes world of network television just before its dominance began to erode.

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