Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Holiday Bookshelf: Four Books About the TV Biz You Should Read


Santa didn't get you what you wanted? Perhaps it's time to return that ugly scarf and instead invest in some good reading. For you folks out there interested in the biz, several friends have come out with interesting reads about TV. Jim McKairnes, whom I've known from his days at CBS, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the TV biz-- which comes in handy when he teaches students at DePaul. He recently self-published a book about how industry execs got into the TV biz-- the question he gets most from his students. You can buy the book here. I recently chatted over Facebook with Jim:

FRANKLIN AVENUE: Where did the idea come from to self-publish a book about breaking into the industry?
This book is spun off from the teaching I began to do in 2009-10. As a general intro to first class, I told students how I broke in, and saw them perk up. So after that i reached out to colleagues to ask how they broke in and then I read their emailed replies one at a time each week, calling them "Survival Guide" letters. It was no surprise to see that students crave advice and guidance based on real-world experience of those in field they want to enter. I have done this with each class since, and at the end of each term, I redact emails and print/distribute them to class. After three years and 102 stories, a friend suggested i publish them. Now it's actually selling.

FRANKLIN AVENUE: What's the Cliff Notes version of your story?
:East-coast j-school grad, East Coast entertainment journalism in my 20s, started over out here at 29 knowing no one and nothing. I met Norman Lear, who told me i should be working in TV, introduced me to then-CBS head Jeff Sagansky, and I was eventually hired at CBS. I stayed 13 years and left in 2006 as senior VP of scheduling and planning. I returned for a 2-year hitch from 2008 to 2010 in comedy development on studio side. I was asked to teach at DePaul in Chicago after an appearance there to talk. Now I'm writing and teaching but planning a 2013 return to the executive ranks if the right gig is out there and if love of TV is still anyone's aim.

FRANKLIN AVENUE: Is there a common thread on how folks "made it"?
Unquestionably an internship, paid or unpaid.

FRANKLIN AVENUE: I imagine this is question No. 1 from your students -- how to break into Hollywood. What's question No. 2?
"Is Hollywood cut-throat?"

FRANKLIN AVENUE: What's the thing you wished you knew when you were starting out that you know now?
What i wish i knew then: that presentation and ceremony -- working the system and selling yourself -- are as important to getting a job as ability and knowledge.

Here are a few more books anyone in Hollywood ought to add to their shelves:


Alan Sepinwall recently self-published the book The Revolution Was Televised, a look at some of the ground-breaking dramas of the past 15 years (think "The Sopranos," "The Wire," etc.) The book even earned a rave from the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani:

Mr. Sepinwall’s book, which was self-published, has all the immediacy and attention to detail that has won his blog so many followers (including this one). It also stands as a spirited and insightful cultural history. In these pages he examines how the artists behind 12 groundbreaking series used the time and space and intimacy afforded by the medium of TV to pioneer new means of storytelling, while at the same time explicating the philosophical visions behind their work.


From Syracuse University Press, my former Variety colleague Cynthia Littleton has written the definitive book on the WGA strike, TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Having covered the strike and its lasting impact, I know this will be an interesting read. Former NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield blurbs:

Every day Cynthia shows us how smart and well informed she is with her reporting. What we didn’t know is just how compelling a storyteller she is! If you are in the entertainment industry or aspire to be this book is a MUST READ page turner. The players come to life and the events of the Writer’s strike provide the prism for Cynthia’s explanation of how the entire entertainment eco-system really works. In the lightning fast constantly changing entertainment universe this book helps us to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ it is all happening. Bravo Cynthia!

Battaglio book

Finally, my TV Guide Magazine colleague Steve Battaglio has been busy. Hot off his book about the history of the "Today" show, Steve also collaborated with NBC News on "Election Night: A Television History 1948-2012." Here's the blurb:

Election Night: A Television History by Stephen Battaglio is a fascinating and revealing look at the evolution of U.S. presidential election night broadcasts and how since 1948, this televised event galvanizes the nation.It explores the technical advancements in vote counting, live coverage from the field, how the networks get polling information and call a state for a candidate and how the drama unfolds in the control room. Through the lens of NBC News, Election Night highlights significant commentary by legendary news figures such as Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, and Brian Williams.

Drawing from extensive video archives, Battaglio goes through every presidential race beginning with Truman vs. Dewey and features all sixteen elections broadcasted since the dawn of television, including the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama.

Filled with anecdotal stories about political campaigns and network coverage, Election Night provides a "behind-the-scenes" account by industry professionals and gives inside access to history in the making.

There you go. Escape the week between Christmas and New Years with a good book about TV!

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