odds and ends: top of the rock, dune
Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV is an interesting, somewhat lacking book in the vein of oral histories like Please Kill Me or Live from New York. I’ve always felt one of the most interesting things about using that format to retell a story is how, occasionally, there will be conflict in the way people remember events occurring. No such thing happens in Top of the Rock; all parties interviewed are effusive in their praise of NBC’s long-lived “Must See TV” era and by extension, Littlefield himself.
I thought this was a shame, as Top of the Rock does do a decent job documenting the highs – under Littlefield’s tenure, NBC was a juggernaut of broadcast television, with hit after hit including Friends, Seinfeld, and ER. It was the last great gasp of network television’s dominance as watercolor fodder, before the increased power of the cable networks and technological advancements lessened NBC and its’ competitors grip on American viewers. Much time is spent on the genesis of Will and Grace, a pet project of Littelfield’s which featured the first gay male lead character on a situation comedy.
All of these stories are highlighted by insight from the people who were intimately involved with the shows themselves; while some of these stories have been told multiple times before, I found the section about ER to be pretty rich with new information detailing the difficult conception and birth of that series.
I think Top of the Rock would have been a stronger book if Littlefield and co-author T.R. Pearson had been a bit more frank about the bad practices which were born out of NBC’s dominance, especially the channel’s somewhat lazy attitude with filling their Thursday time slots after powerhouses Friends and Seinfeld with NBC owned laffers which didn’t hit the mark. For as much as you’ll read about Mad about You and Frasier here, there’s little about bland sitcoms like Caroline in the City, The Single Guy, Suddenly Susan. NBC could pretty much air a test pattern after Seinfeld and win the night and it’s widely held they didn’t take this opportunity and run with it.
…however, with that in mind, I do understand that Top of the Rock is something of a victory lap for Littlefield and perhaps leaving those things out is acceptable. I hold a lot of affection for this time in television history and there’s no denying that Warren Littlefield helped shaped that time.
Also, I definitely learned that Jeff Zucker is history’s greatest monster thanks to this book. Sorry Hitler.
I’ve decided to correct a blind spot in my geeky literature intake and read Dune by Frank Herbert.
Despite my love of science fiction in movies and on television, I have never been a big fan of sci-fi literature outside of the biggies. I was the same way with fantasy novels; while I loved reading The Lord of the Rings when I was in high school, I never got bit by the bug that seems to get most Tolkien fans interested in the aisles upon aisles of fantasy paperbacks in our bookstore. So it went with sci-fi. I thought Dune would be a good entry into science fiction because it’s a classic and despite being around for almost 50 years, I knew precious little about it.
My sum total of knowledge of Dune before starting to read it:
1. It takes place on a sand planet.
2. There are sand worms, like in the movie Beetlejuice.
3. David Lynch made a Dune movie; I never saw it.
…and that’s it! Considering it’s legacy, I thought that spoke pretty well for the book’s ability to surprise me. I’m about a fifth of the way through it and smooth sailing so far.