cover image Pandora’s Box: The Greed, Lust, and Lies That Upended Television

Pandora’s Box: The Greed, Lust, and Lies That Upended Television

Peter Biskind. Morrow, $32.50 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-299166-9

In this no-holds-barred account, cultural critic Biskind (Star) charts how the rise of cable television ushered in an era of “Peak TV” before streaming reinstated a business model focused on “reaching as big an audience as cheaply as possible.” HBO’s ascent in the 1980s and ’90s, Biskind explains, replaced “sponsors with subscribers,” whom the company attracted with edgy programming, including profanity-laced comedy specials and original shows featuring nudity. Netflix’s foray into streaming challenged cable networks’ dominance in the 2010s, but the company’s early strategy of attracting talent by offering broad creative freedom became subsumed by an obsession with adding subscribers, leading the streamer to focus on the “lowest-common-denominator” programs that HBO made outdated, such as Fuller House. The author revels in the behind-the-scenes pettiness and ego clashes that went into making landmark shows, delving into HBO’s punitive cancellation of Deadwood after creator David Milch balked at the network CEO’s request to truncate the show’s fourth season so Milch could work on another HBO project, and the humor amuses, as when Biskind suggests that Terence Winter, showrunner of the Martin Scorsese–produced Boardwalk Empire, “would have pulled a gangster series out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to work with the director. This gossip-filled overview of the past 40 years of television will keep readers glued to their seats. (Nov.)