A great article for fans, pros, writers, actors, students – oh hell, for anybody who loves TV and wants to know more, more, more about it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re absolutely sure that Larry Brody’s classic Turning Points in TV would have been on this list, but, sadly, it’s out of print. Why didn’t you guys all buy it while you could!?
by Erik Adams, Les Chappell, Danette Chavez & Noel Murray
Among its 100-plus lists, the 2009 Inventory book (now available for the low, low price of a penny!) contains “TV Guides: 5 essential books about TV.” The books it highlights—The Late Shift by Bill Carter, Live From New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Total Television by Alex McNeil, The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison, and The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family—are undisputed classics of the genre, but they’re not the only worthwhile small-screen reads. TV has been celebrated and decried in print since its inception; the medium’s ongoing Golden Age has fostered an audience eager to read about its favorite shows after the credits roll—and a cohort of critics, authors, and scholars prepared to satisfy that appetite. That means there might be more vital books about TV on the shelves by the end of 2016—until then, try supplementing The A.V. Club’s previous TV reading list with the 19 titles that follow.
1. The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946-Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (1979)
The first edition of the definitive TV reference book was a massive undertaking, indexing every show that aired at least four episodes during peak viewing hours on NBC, CBS, ABC, or DuMont. Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy, and Sea Hunt-era Lloyd Bridges signaled the addition of popular syndicated programs to the book’s second edition; cable was added to the listings (and the book’s title) for the sixth. The efforts of network research execs Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh only grew more intensive from there, with every “REVISED AND UPDATED” volume of The Complete Directory reflecting shifting TV trends and climates, all helpfully condensed in Brooks’ continuously evolving introduction, “A Short History Of Network Television.” Looking back on the ’90s in the seventh edition, Brooks calls the decade “the first time viewers have a real choice, all the time,” unaware of the the bounty of options waiting on the other side of the streaming revolution. Sadly, we might never get to read a readily digestible summary of Orange Is The New Black from Brooks and Marsh: The books’ ninth edition, published in 2007, is reportedly its last. [Erik Adams]
2. Tube Of Plenty by Erik Barnouw (1975)
Just about anybody who’s ever taken a college class on broadcasting history has read some or all of Erik Barnouw’sTube Of Plenty, a highly entertaining yet impressively wide-ranging survey of how television evolved from radio (and then changed again with the rise of cable, which is covered in subsequent editions). Jumping from hard facts to lighthearted anecdotes—grouped into short sections that make the book browsable—Tube Of Plenty is like the ideal version of a textbook, at once informative and absorbing. It also benefits from the author’s distinctive slant. A writer who worked in the industry before he moved into academia, Barnouw has a definite point-of-view about the politics of show business, and the ongoing struggle of ordinary Americans to gain access to the airwaves. [Noel Murray]
3. TV: The Most Popular Art by Horace Newcomb (1974)
Horace Newcomb was a college professor who moonlighted as The Baltimore Sun’s television columnist, which explains the singular style of his groundbreaking book TV: The Most Popular Art, a piece of long-form criticism that welds academic rigor and insight to an enthusiast’s expertise. In addition to defining the elements of TV genres—beyond just “Westerns have horses”—Newcomb explores the deeper meaning of different formulas, considering how they both confirm or subvert the television audience’s preexisting prejudices. Though the book sometimes dings the medium’s insidious cultural influence, it also represents the voice of somebody who clearly appreciates artistry. It’s no wonder that Newcomb would go on to chair the Peabody Awards for nearly a dozen years. [Noel Murray]…