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Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV [Kindle Edition]

Warren Littlefield
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.
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Product Description


Must-See TV—I remember very well when Warren and NBC coined that expression to describe what we were doing. This book will be Must-Read for many people who fondly recall that time.” —Jerry Seinfeld

“The first and last word on NBC’s . . . critically acclaimed and crucially profitable Thursday night lineup.”
   —The Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating anecdotes and tidbits . . . . There’s no denying the magic NBC conjured in the '80s and '90s.” —Variety

“Engrossing and lively . . . [Littlefield] enlists the voices of many of the actors and creative forces behind such hits as Seinfeld, Will & Grace, Cheers and ER to help him chronicle the glory days of ‘Must See TV.’”
    —The Chicago Sun-Times

“A chronicle of the last golden age of network television, [Top of the Rock] is the literary equivalent of a former NBC Thursday night lineup . . . . Littlefield is the ultimate Must See insider. The mini-histories are a blast . . . full of fresh detail.”
   —The Hollywood Reporter

“[An] essential oral history.”
   —Detriot Free Press

“Warren Littlefield has reminded us of what was possible not so long ago. . . . [recounting] his successful run at NBC and the inside stories of the shows that made it happen.”
   —TV Guide

“A fascinating oral history of shows like Seinfeld that defined an era.”
   —Daily News

“While the general public will likely focus on how Seinfeld got made and what made the cast of Friends tick, industry insiders will be looking for dirt, and there is no shortage of that.”
   —Los Angeles Times

“You are what your record says you are, and Littlefield’s record at NBC in the ’90s was tremendous.”
   —The Newark Star-Ledger

“With an entertaining insider's perspective, Littlefield transports readers back to a seemingly magical time when half the country would watch the same show.”
   —Kirkus Reviews

“Littlefield unleashed a ‘financial geyser’ at NBC, and these revelatory glimpses of those glory days make this one of the more entertaining books published about the television industry.”
   —Publishers Weekly

Product Description

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 profitsIn 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.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 12595 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 1 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005X0JG8O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #171,224 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Now I'm going to watch CBS May 21 2012
By Chris
I thought this would be Littlefield using prose to tell his non-fiction story, like most books of this type, right? But the book went another route with interviews and once I got used to that and accepting that I couldn't keep all the executives straight, I focused on the information I was obtaining. I learned stuff about "Seinfeld", "Friends", "Will & Grace", and that a lot of people don't like Jeff Zucker. I was hoping for a lot of details about NBC's decline - the book does have "... rise and fall ..." in the title - but books like these encourage me to read more non-fiction.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  118 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Hit-Or-Miss Accounting Of The Glory Days Of Network TV: Some Great Stuff, Some Lost Opportunities May 10 2012
By K. Harris - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
If ever there was a book I was looking forward to, it was Warren Littlefield's account of his days as NBC President of Entertainment. "Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV," however, ends up getting somewhat of a mixed reaction. Littlefield ushered in and supported a new era of quality network programming that raised NBC to the level of appointment television. The book has fascinating nuggets of information about a myriad of shows that I grew up with including Seinfeld, Cheers, ER, Mad About You, Frasier, Will and Grace, and Friends among others. It seemed a simple recipe for success, and one that's gone out of fashion with contemporary network TV. Bring in talent and let them do what they're good at. While sometimes this tale can seem self-serving or boastful, the talent and executives that make up the primary text seem to support Littlefield's pivotal role (and I certainly have no need or wish to question that assertion). Indeed, it was a time of TV that I'll always remember.

And yet, with such a terrific and broad topic, "Top of the Rock" sometimes feels stronger in parts than it does as a whole. Maybe there was simply too much material. Far from a comprehensive accounting of anything in particular, this is snapshots of history. There is a certain randomness to what is covered and at what length. When the book is digging deep, it can be absolutely riveting. Most of the time, however, topics are introduced and dismissed with little development. Chapters can spend 20 pages talking about a show's premiere and 1 page on the following decade when it aired. It is so hit or miss in its presentation, I became absolutely frustrated in the telling. But still, if you love entertainment stories--this would be hard for me not to recommend. There is great stuff, but many missed opportunities as well.

The book is structured as a series of interviews. There are lots of prominent names in the cast of characters (an opening chapter has a "player's guide" with 8 pages of introductions that I mistakenly tried to read. It was downright painful). They are broken into three segments that include talent (Seinfeld, Grammar, and tons of celebrities), creative types (writers, directors), and network executives. By using this structure, it gives the reader a chance to look at various developments from different sides. You'd think that this might give the book an unexpected openness or unpredictability, but the flow of material is heavily orchestrated to support exactly what Littlefield wishes to present.

In the end, I neither loved or hated "Top of the Rock" after fully expecting to love it. I'm glad I read it and if you have a personal interest in the subject, you simply must read it as well. But it is hardly a home run. It's like mining for gold, sometimes you strike it rich and sometimes not. Too episodic, at times too superficial--this is a great topic that is fun in the moment, but offers too little to become an essential addition to your entertainment library. KGHarris, 5/12.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some Interesting Anecdotes, But Ultimately Unsatisfying May 28 2012
By Lee Goldberg - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book isn't so much written as it is transcribed... a collection of raw excerpts, snippets really, from interviews conducted with the key actors, writers, producers, agents, schedulers, and lawyers behind NBC's 1990s hits... and, of course, quotes from Littlefield himself. He and co-author T.R. Pearson are going for the feel of an oral history, but it comes off as disjointed and scattershot.

There are some interesting facts and anecdotes revealed along the way, but much of the book felt like an excuse for Littlefield to settle a couple of old scores. Way too much of the book involves Littlefield and his former subordinates trashing Kelsey Grammer (described as a difficult actor with bad judgment and a substance abuse problem) and NBC president Don Ohlmeyer (depicting him as a boorish drunk with no creative instincts who contributed nothing to the success of the network's schedule) and touting his creative brilliance. It may all be true, but it still felt like sour grapes and became very tiresome.

All in all, it's worth reading if you're student of TV history, but it's not a very good book... not nearly as fascinating, revealing or well written as Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN, Susanne Daniels' recent memoir of programming the WB, which later merged with its rival UPN to create the CW, a book I highly recommend.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Most confusing book I've ever read March 28 2012
By Dave Edmiston - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I work in the entertainment industry (although not TV) and this topic really interests me. However, this book was the most confusing publication I've ever read. Picture yourself channel surfing, talking on the phone, answering an email, and trying to listen to your kids all at the same time. That's exactly how this book read.

My problem with this book is its format. The book is organized by chapters (so far, so good), and each chapter covers a topic or show, like Cheers or Seinfeld. That makes sense, so far. Then the chapter starts with a blurb from the author, former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield. The blurb is set off with the author's name in bold so we know he's the one doing the "talking". Then it's followed by paragraph after paragraph of quotes from other contributors, some of whom you know and some you don't. This pattern keeps going, round-robin style, as the topic meanders along.

Some of the quotes pertain to the topic, and some of them seem completely irrelevant. And since they are just set up with the contributor's name, you have to wrack your brain to remember who that person was. Is this somebody I'm supposed to know? If it's a celebrity's name, then it's usually pretty simple. But if it's someone's manager or publicist or an exec from NBC, maybe the name doesn't ring a bell.

There's nothing to stitch these quotes together at all. The pages present the quotes as if they're all part of a conversation, but it's clear that all of these contributors weren't sitting around in a room talking with each other. I think they were interviewed and then the contents of their interviews were parsed and patched back up into these pseudo conversations. They completely lack continuity though.

Once I got to the end, I had no sense of what I'd just read. I felt like a bunch of presenters had just taken their powerpoint decks and shuffled them together into a collage of name droppings and free associations. As a long time fan of many of these shows, I don't feel like I've gained any deeper insights into the shows and I don't certainly don't feel like my fan urge has been fed at all. I don't care about salacious details or inside dirt; but I would hope to have a more clear understanding of the show. On the other hand, if you're a fan of Warren Littlefield, then you might just get your fan urge fed after all.

EDIT (5/21/12): I heard the author, Warren Littlefield, interviewed on Adam Carolla's podcast last week. It was an interesting conversation--nothing earth shattering, but interesting. They discussed the book very briefly, not quite as deeply as you would expect for an author plugging his book. The thing that really jumped out at me from this conversation was that every time the discussion turned back to the book, Littlefield seemed to speak mostly in terms of his days at NBC, but he never really discussed the process of writing the book. The more he and Carolla spoke, the less convinced I was that he actually sat down and "wrote" this book. He was very animated about his years at NBC, but not so enthusiastic about his book.

It was also very interesting when they discussed the strategy for the audio book. Littlefield was concerned about how the publisher would have someone read this book, since it largely consists of a bunch of different personalities who weren't in the same room who were quoted about various topics. He was concerned that it would be confusing to the listener. (No kidding!) His final suggestion was to have Bob Balaban (who had played Littlefield on various shows) read the audio book as Littlefield. It sounded very close to an admission that the printed book's contents are already confusing enough without confusing them even more in the audio book.

This interview supported my original opinion, that this book is really no more than a collection of bodies of text from various personalities and that the quotes from those personalities were diced and parsed into a dish that left me with horrible mental indigestion. It would have been much more interesting had the conversations from each of the individuals been left intact so that you could read each one from start to finish and draw your own connections between them all.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warren Littlefield's Love Letter . . . to Warren Littlefield May 17 2012
By Nathan A. Gordon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Warren Littlefield and his co-author T.R. Pearson used the device of providing excerpts from oral interviews (from around 50 people) to demonstrate all that he accomplished as the former NBC President of Entertainment. There is so much back-story available here, real inside information as to the production and eventual end of such great shows as Cheers, Frazier, Seinfeld, E.R. and Will and Grace that makes this book a very worthwhile read to people interested in television show production. Essentially, Mr. Littlefield's overarching theme is that the best way, in fact, the only way, to secure quality television is to let the creative people do their work with minimal involvement from the network suits. Based on NBC's ratings during most of his reign (as set forth by Mr. Littlefield), he may be right but, of course, as he points out, thanks to technology, the television business was quite different in the 1990s than today.

Given the amount of people involved in each show, it is unclear for a reader to determine how much credit should be given to Mr.Littlefield's contributions to each of these and other shows through the years but the quotes attributed to the people interviewed (from Jerry Seinfeld to Jim Burrows to Bob Wright to Jack Welch) suggest that it was indeed substantial. If this book has a second theme, it would be to serve as documentation that James Burrows was the greatest thing to ever happen to television sitcoms and that former NBC executive Dan Ohlmeyer (who was eventually allowed to fire Littlefield) was a chronic and moving obstacle.

Mr. Littlefield's former boss, the now deceased Brandon Tartikoff, once said that Mr. Littlefield was like a cockroach who could survive a nuclear war. We get to see those survival instincts in this book. For example, little credit is given to Mr. Littlefield's predecessors (Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff) until the closing acknowledgments at the back of the book. In the last full chapter, Mr. Littlefield completes his attack on who proved to be his ultimate successor (Jeff Zucker) but with an eye to the future (the back cover suggests that Mr. Littlefield owns a television production company), he blows a kiss to the current NBC programming head, Comcast's Bob Greenblatt.

So Littlefield gets to fire the first shots. I can't wait to read the sequels from Jeff Zucker, Dan Ohlmeyer and Bob Wright.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a Read but... May 27 2012
By Christopher J. Keesing - Published on
It's an enjoyable book with an highly placed insider's perspective but falls short of being a useful history of this period in television programing and should more properly be considered a memoir. This stretch of NBC prominence from the 80's and the 90's calls for a much more detailed treatment say, by someone such as Bill Carter (Late Shift, Desperate Networks, etc.). Here the era's various aspects would receive a fuller analytical treatment and be compared and contrasted with the competition.

Littlefield seems conflicted over his inheritance, yes, NBC's eighties shows were getting tired and challenged by increasing viewer segmentation caused by the rise of "cable networks" and their programming, but he was chosen to lead a mature organization with considerable success, hardly what one would term, "left holding the bag". Indeed, "Must See TV" might be better seen as adaptive and capitalizing on the 1980's successes and advancing it in the 1990's.

I found the approach of carrying or bolstering his framework narrative with numerous individuals' anectodal observations distracting (to his credit a list of these parties is provided so a reader who's not in the business has a frame of reference). Yes, there are flashes of insight here and there but these short narratives don't always complement what the author is trying to convey. Littlefield says the book took two and half years to complete, presumably tied to getting material from his sources--perhaps working with a co-author (the one described as a novelist) with more of a television historian's background or a more demanding editor would have improved the work.

All in all, it's entertaining but leaves you wishing for more.
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