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Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad Hardcover – Jul 9 2013

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Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad + The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever + I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
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Amazon.com: 101 reviews
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
What I saw at the revolution July 6 2013
By Nathan Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I think this interesting, detailed book will be best enjoyed by those of a "certain age," who can recall the original creation of each step along the way. If you're in your mid-40s, you might very well have watched "Hill Street Blues," and realized, when Hill and Renko got shot, that it was something different, even if you weren't sure how or why.

Author Brett Martin answers that 'why' and 'how' for many of the current high-quality shows we take totally for granted. The 'showrunners' behind "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Mad Men," etc., are creative producers at the top of their game, but none of them walked into a studio and just started making shows; their personal timelines date back decades, with a surprising amount of collaboration between them. Each had to overcome obstacles and a lack of network faith.

Martin does not recap show plots and stories. Rather it walks the reader through the decisions, proposals, and occasional lucky breaks and coincidences that led to each show's genesis - FX's "The Shield" was greenlit just before 9/11 for example; another two weeks, and it's probably never made. So it's not about the shows, but the offices that created the shows - it's much more interesting than that might sound.

Each of these shows required a complete commitment from its creator - and a lot of breaks in-between. Anybody who ever thinks "oh, creative people are just lucky" is an idiot. They made their own 'luck' with a single-minded devotion and talent that 99 percent of people can't relate to, and Martin's biographical accounts fill in those blanks. These men are often (not always) jerks, self-righteous, meanspirited, uncompromising, and in many accounts fairly difficult to be around, but the book's stories show that without that personality, things often don't get done at this high level. Martin's done a great job with both reporting and interviews to create these detailed portraits (but it assumes you are already familiar with the shows themselves).

I don't agree with another reviewer's comment that the book is "70 percent" Sopranos. There is a lot about David Chase, but he connects to many other stories, so it makes sense. Many of the men worked together or for each other, at some point. Sometimes it went well, sometimes not (The "Damages" to "Sopranos" connection is kind of funny).

I wish there had been a woman represented somewhere, but Tina Fey and the comedy "30 Rock" would have been a difficult fit.

Like any book about nostalgia, this book assumes you care - a lot - about its subject matter. If you're only mildly curious, you might roll your eyes at constant references to TV's 'Third Golden Age' and other melodramatic phrases.

But it's like that scene in "Devil Wears Prada" where Meryl Streep sneers at her assistant who doesn't care about a color choice - an amazing amount of money and effort went into these shows, and they get millions of people to invest their time with them on a weekly basis (and with HBO, pay for the privilege). So you can roll your eyes if you want, but whether it's these shows or many other shows, creative effort from these men or their proteges is probably on display and we're sitting on the couch watching it. These shows have supplanted movies as the 'water cooler conversation' and social thread that ties us together. I appreciated seeing what it took to get there.
35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Good, but too Sopranos'-focused June 30 2013
By Phil Simon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Difficult Men is well written and researched and I did enjoy it. While reading it, though, something began gnawing at me roughly 50 pages in. Difficult Men feels like two separate books fused into one, and the result is ultimately unsatisfying.

I'd wager that nearly 70 percent of the book is about The Sopranos, clearly the show that spawned what Martin calls "the creative revolution." No argument here. Matthew Weiner of Mad Men has a Sopranos' lineage. And Vince Gilligan has said that there would be no Walter White without Tony Soprano. Additional kudos go to David Simon's The Wire, also a groundbreaking show. Unfortunately, however, Martin gives culturally significant series like Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season, and others short shrift.

For some reason, Martin keeps bringing everything back to The Sopranos, and often its creator David Chase. Difficult Men spends far too much time on the show that spawned the Creative Revolution and not enough on the other shows of that revolution. Yes, The Sopranos was important. We get it. As I read the book I kept asking myself, Why not just write a book about The Sopranos and another, more balanced one on what Martin calls The Third Golden Age of Television? Maybe the publisher recommended that Martin add popular shows to the subtitle of the book for SEO purposes?

A few pet peeves: I lost count of the number of times that the author dropped words like auteur and tropes. Some of that seemed a bit gratuitous. And why Bryan Cranston is on the cover of this book is beyond me. This is mostly a book about The Sopranos and the impact it has had.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Inside look at the creators July 3 2013
By laughslast - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Primarily biographies of, insights into and amusing stories about those who created the shows - David Chase, David Simon, Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan. Well written and interesting if you want to learn about how some got a deal with HBO or who was a tyrant to their staff. Much less informative about the contents of the shows themselves. Interesting but only for junkies who want inside dope on these men who changed the landscape, rather than insight into the contents or style of the shows.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The passing of James Gandolfini makes this book even more timely July 1 2013
By G. Uhl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Difficult men

Brett Martin

Difficult men is a book about the new golden age of television, focusing on the male creators, writers and showrunners, and specifically concentrating on The Sopranos. There is mention to a fair degree about The Wire, and Mad Men, some discussion of Deadwood and The Shield, but other than that there is not much in depth mention of Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter...

One of the only actors to be detailed in the book is James Gandolfini. His passing this month makes these aspects of the book particularly enthralling.

The book focuses most on the difficult men behind the shows rather than the difficult men the shows are about. So this is more about David Chase, David Simon, Ed Burns and Matthew Weiner than it is about Tony Soprano, Don Draper, or Mr. White.

I listen to Terry Gross on NPR. If I watch a series on DVD or Blu-ray I watch the extras and listen to the commentary. So there was not much in this book that was brand new for me. The author does not really go too far past obvious observations regarding creative types and their motivations. So this book is not going to spark any debates about the author's thesis regarding men's psyches because he does not really go there.

If you never pay attention to DVD extras or entertainment news, and you are fan of HBO shows in particular than this book will provide you with a lot of fascinating behind the scenes information.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Original and insightful July 5 2013
By Greg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Based on a significant amount of original reporting (Martin interviewed every showrunner except Weiner), Brett Martin takes us through the sea change from the late 1990s through 2013 that had TV--in particular premium TV and cable TV--as a dominant creative force. Martin takes us inside the writing rooms--and (whenever possible), the showrunner's heads--to illustrate how Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Al Swearengen came to dominant the national psyche.

The book is by necessity limited--no comedies (so no Dan Harmon and no Tina Fey as a calm counterpoint) and no broadcast shows, no matter how good (one would've loved to have a chapter on Lindelof and Cuse running LOST, no Joss Whedon's brilliant but cancelled Firefly). Slightly stranger, there's no mention of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, whose 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot tried to do for the Sci-fi channel what Mad Men did for AMC. And, with the exclusion of Tina Fey, Jeni Kojar (Weeds) and Michelle King (co-showrunner for The Good Wife), very few women, a problem Martin admits up front.

That being said, anyone who's a fan of TV will devour this book, and I'm glad--as the showrunner of a small forthcoming webseries--that Martin's focus included Alan Ball and Vince Gilligan, both of whom seem collaborative, friendly and largely ego-free rooms. A great companion piece to Alan Sepinwall's "The Revolution Was Televised" and a rapid read.