Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ to ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’

Brett Martin, Author
Brett Martin. Penguin Press, $27.95 (295p) ISBN 978-1-59420-419-7
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 07/03/2013
Paperback - 303 pages - 978-0-14-312569-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-4829-1328-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-4829-1327-9
MP3 CD - 978-1-4829-1325-5
Paperback - 356 pages - 978-0-571-30380-9
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Martin (The Sopranos: The Book) names the period spanning 1999 to 2013 “the third golden age of television,” after those of the 1950s and the 1980s, and shows how it was made possible by a unique moment in entertainment history. The 1980s saw premium cable services with their shorter seasons and the advent of the VCR. The new landscape encouraged developing original programming to help fill 168 hours a week and taking chances with serialized narrative, as opposed to the syndication-friendly stand-alone episodes common in broadcast television. A little later, shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Mad Men subverted network formulas to present flawed, even nihilistic antiheros wrestling with inner demons. Over the course of a dozen episodes a season, each show explored such dark themes as addiction, psychotherapy, and failure, and this boundary pushing made them as revolutionary as the very idea of “good television.” Martin’s book recognizes the small-screen auteurs that made it all possible—including Grant Tinker, a television executive whose high regard for writers made the most creative ones flock to him; Steve Bochco, who established the role of autonomous writer/show runner; and frustrated screenwriter David Chase, a TV scribe with a scathing disregard for the medium. Martin deftly traces TV’s evolution from an elitist technology in a handful of homes, to an entertainment wasteland reflecting viewers’ anomie, to “the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century.” (July)
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