The Revolution was Televised by Alan Sepinwall
202 by What's Alan Watching, 306 pages
(I bought this via kindle two days ago)
I check in on Grantland fairly regularly and not just for the sports related posts. The other day there was an excerpt from The Revolution was Televised, by Alan Sepinwall. It was a portion of the chapter from this book about the television show Lost. It was a fascinating explanation of how the show came together--and just how crazy and unlikely it was that it did, and even more unlikely that it became a hit. Being a television junkie, I did some searching online and find out that the author of the book has been a prolific television critic since the days of NYPD Blue. Not only that, but the list of shows he's written about in this book (a quick look showed me not only Lost, but The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Friday Night Lights, and more) looked like a laundry list of those piled up collected season DVD's on my bookshelves. A purchase was inevitable.
Just as inevitable was how fast I was going to go through the book--and I don't think that will just happen to me. The way Sepinwall has put the book together--one big chapter on a dozen different television shows, shows that he shows were revolutionary in one way or another, in a style somewhere between narrative and oral history, with plenty of interviews of the creators of the shows, as well as network executives, has the book read like an easily downed box of chocolates; you might mean to simply eat one or maybe two, but a few hours later you're staring at little paper wrappers and an empty box.
Sepinwall was a newspaper critic in New Jersey, and at least of portion of the reason he got that initial job was the website he'd created for covering NYPD Blue when he was in college. At the time he felt like he was witnessing a golden age of television watching the aforementioned NYPD Blue, Homicide, as well as their predecessor, Hill Street Blues. What Sepinwall comes to realize is that while those shows began pushing boundaries, the shows that he focuses full chapters on all took bigger steps than simply pushing a boundary or two--they bounded forward, doing something revolutionary in how they changed television.
Sepinwall shows his historical knowledge by starting off not with The Sopranos, but with its HBO predecessor, Oz. HBO had done some of their own shows prior to Oz, but they really hadn't invested hard into their own scripted series. Oz was their first real launch into this, and as a series set in an experimental ward of prison, with creators Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, there were plenty of story angles and methods of telling them, that could simply not be told on network television.
Each chapter has a similar way of being told--the reader is given a bit of history of the show, how the creators came up with it and pitched it, how the network took it on and in some cases, why. These are done with either new interviews, or in a few cases, pieced together from prior interviews Sepinwall had done with these individuals. There would be an explanation as to the revolutionary aspect about the show.
The Sopranos giving us an anti-hero; The Wire as television in novel form; Deadwood as television via auteur via David Milch; Buffy the Vampire Slayer as sci-fi/horror breaking down our expectations--the monsters needing to be scared of the pretty blonde for once, and how these "monster" stories really told tales of high school angst with an entertaining flair; and so on for each show right on through two shows still currently running, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. And each of these explanations are more than plausible and feel exactly right. And again, they're put together in both fascinating and entertaining ways.
Not only all of that, but he gives Terriers a couple of positive nods. If he needed it, this would have been worth half a star alone. He didn't need it.
If you have any interest in television, especially in the most critically acclaimed shows of the past fifteen years, this book should be on your shelf, right there with all of your DVD's of these wonderful shows.