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Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

By: Warren Littlefield | Other books by Warren Littlefield
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: May 01, 2012
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Price: $11.99
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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 profits. In 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

 
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Excerpt:

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Warren: I arrived at NBC in December 1979, hired by Brandon Tartikoff to work in the comedy department. I was manager of comedy development, the junior member of the department. Brandon was a newly minted vice president of development at the network, which was mired in last place. I was twenty-seven years old, and though I had watched a lot of it, I knew next to nothing about network television. Brandon, my boss, was all of thirty.

In what was just a three-way race for audience (there'd be no Fox Broadcasting until 1987), NBC was jokingly derided as number four. CBS had ten comedies on its schedule, including M

  • A
  • S
  • H, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Jeffersons, Alice, and One Day at a Time. ABC could boast fourteen sitcoms, among them Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Barney Miller, Soap, Taxi, and Three's Company. At NBC, we had Diff'rent Strokes and Hello, Larry.

    In terms of general viewership, CBS led the way with about sixteen million households. ABC was a close second with fifteen million. NBC lagged well behind at twelve million. For the 1980 season, Little House on the Prairie was our top-rated show at sixteenth. We placed only four shows in the top thirty. There was nowhere to go but up.

    Worse still, NBC's head of programming at the time was a man named Paul Klein. He had a background in audience research and had come up with the strategy of LOP, which stood for Least Objectionable Programming (I'm not kidding). The object was to piss off as few viewers as possible. The network product line was largely geared toward big events, so we became the Big Event network.

    A TV critic once asked Paul Klein, "How do you know when you've got a big event?"

    Klein said, "We sit around a table, and people throw out ideas, and somebody says, 'That's a big event,' and that's when we know."

    It was an insane form of programming, expensive and not in the least bit habit--forming. NBC had essentially abandoned weekly series as the spine of the network. As a remedy, the legendary Fred Silverman had been brought over from ABC to turn things around. Fred didn't waste a lot of time in making Brandon the new head of the entertainment division. I hoped that would also be good for me.

    By then, Fred had already enjoyed remarkable success at the other two networks. A Time magazine cover piece on Silverman had called him "The Man with the Golden Gut." NBC was in desperate need of a programming miracle, so maybe a golden gut would do.

    My first encounter with Fred was pretty alarming for me. It took place in a conference room on the second floor at NBC in Burbank. We were meeting to review the current development slate. Fred wasn't very happy. In fact, he was screaming that it was impossible to turn NBC around if deals couldn't be made faster.

    Fred shifted in his chair, looked at me, and shrieked, "Why haven't you closed any of those deals yet!?"

    I experienced major shrinkage and couldn't get any words out.

    Finally my boss jumped in and said, "Fred, this is Warren. He's the new guy in comedy development."

    "Oh," Fred said. "Where the fuck is the business affairs guy?"

    My only words to the legendary Fred Silverman that day were "Don't know. Not me."

    We were so desperate for quality programming that we had to wave a series commitment at Les and Glen Charles and Jimmy Burrows. The trio had never created a show, but they had worked on more than a few iconic programs: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, The Bob Newhart Show, and Taxi. We guaranteed them thirteen episodes on the air just to lure them to pitch us. Nobody wanted to be on NBC. To get Jimmy and the Charles...
  • Top of the Rock
    By: Warren Littlefield
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