Fall 2006

Desperate Networks
(Doubleday, 384 pages, $26.95)
By Bill Carter

Ten years ears after analyzing the bitter Leno vs. Letterman feud in The Late Show, New York Times TV correspondent Bill Carter returns with a compelling portrait — half forensic-procedural, half corporate reality-soap — of the years leading up to the 2004-2005 TV season that transformed prime-time TV beyond recognition. The period saw unprecedented changes in the television marketplace — particularly the atomization of the prime-time audience by the Internet, video games and cable — that left the Big Four struggling to retain market shares. Carter’s detailed, energetic reporting — remarkably little of it off-the-record — covers every blood-soaked theater of the war: the sudden ascendancy of reality TV; the passage of serious network news into near-irrelevancy; Les Moonves’ transformation of geriatric-oriented CBS into an 18-49 powerhouse; and ABC’s struggle to make Lost and Desperate Housewives despite the ever vigilant control of the “notorious tightwads at Disney.” Carter ably surveys Titanic flops, Himalayan egos and Vesuvian temper-tantrums, leavened occasionally by that rare butt-saving megahit. If the book has a hero, it’s Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry: 40-plus, $30K in debt to his mom, embezzled by his own agent, his golden years as producer and director of Golden Girls apparently far behind him, he persists with a pilot script widely considered “no-notes” perfect, which is nonetheless rejected by every greenlighter in town. In life, as on TV, it’s always nice when the little guy prevails.

Review written by John Patterson.


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