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Desperate Networks [Deluxe Edition] [Hardcover]

Bill Carter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2, 2006 0385514409 978-0385514408 1st
In the executive offices of the four major networks, sweeping changes are taking place and billions of dollars are at stake. Now Bill Carter, bestselling author of The Late Shift, goes behind the scenes to reveal the inner workings of the television industry, capturing the true portraits of the larger-than-life moguls and stars who make it such a cutthroat business.

In a time of sweeping media change, the four major networks struggle for the attention of American viewers increasingly distracted by cable, video games, and the Internet. Behind boardroom doors, tempers flare in the search for hit shows, which often get on the air purely by accident. The fierce competition creates a pressure-cooker environment where anything can happen . . .

• NBC’s fall from grace—Once the undisputed king of prime time, NBC plunged from first place to last place in the ratings in the course of a single season. What will be the price of that collapse—and who will pay it?

• CBS’s slow and steady race to the top—Unlike NBC, CBS, under the leadership of CEO, Leslie Moonves, engineered one of the most spectacular turnarounds in television history. But in this ruthless world, you’re only as good as last week’s ratings . . . .

• ABC’s surprising resurrection—Lost and Desperate Housewives—have brought ABC the kind of success it could only dream of in the past. So why don’t the executives responsible for those hits work there any more?

• The end of the news as we know it—In a stunningly short period of time, all three of the major network news anchors—Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings—signed off, leaving executives scrambling for a way to keep network news relevant in an era of 24/7 information.

• Crazy Like Fox—They’re outrageous, unconventional, and occasionally off-putting, but more and more people are watching Fox shows. Most of all they keep watching American Idol. How did Simon Cowell snooker himself into a huge payday? Stay tuned . . .

In Desperate Networks Bill Carter digs deep inside the industry, delivering utterly irresistible “dish” that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s the perfect book to read when there’s nothing on TV.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The power relationships of network television have turned topsy-turvy in the last five years. Carter, who covers the industry for the New York Times, reveals as one example how NBC was muscled out of its first-place standing as the other networks developed hit after hit. The shows he chooses to showcase are instantly recognizable—American Idol, Survivor, Desperate Housewives—and in every case, the show's path to the airwaves is at least as dramatic as its content. Though Carter is primarily concerned with prime-time hits, his reporting spreads out from the TodayShow to the nightly newscasts and, harking back to his bestselling The Late Shift, the negotiations that cemented Conan O'Brien as Jay Leno's successor on The Tonight Show. Despite multiple narrative threads, the story never gets confusing or bogged down. Though some clear heroes emerge, like Housewives creator Marc Cherry, most of the key figures, from Idol's acerbic Simon Cowell to network execs like CBS head Les Moonves and NBC's Jeff Zucker, are depicted ambiguously, reflecting failures as well as successes. And it's Carter's insider access, illuminating the players' states of mind, that makes this backstage drama so riveting. (May 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Carter's book The Late Shift (1996), also an HBO movie, focused on the vicious battle for Johnny Carson's coveted spot on The Tonight Show. Here he tackles the entire industry, taking a behind-the-scenes look at network television's struggle to compete for eyeballs and revenue dollars with looming distractions from the likes of cable, TiVo, and computers. Despite all that, no hit can create the type of sensation that a network megahit can. Carter takes us into the process at the executive decision-making level, where network bigwigs clamor for years for the next monster hit only to have it slip through their hands and wind up on a competing network. The shake-ups are evident: NBC's "Must-See TV" dominance ended with the last episode of Friends, ABC rose from the ashes with Lost and Desperate Housewives, and Fox constantly challenges the old guard. All three major network news anchors--Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings--signed off in an amazingly short period of time. Without resorting to gossip, Carter digs up the dirt on the shows you love and the ones you love to hate. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 404 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514408
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #610,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
In a fairly entertaining behind-the-scenes account of the major US networks' programming decisions, the author provides a glimpse of the inner workings of TV executives (and intentionally or not, doesn't necessarily show them to be geniuses). The initial discussions surrounding Survivor's introduction is perhaps the better written part of the book. Past blunders (always in hindsight, though) by all the major networks as discussed by the author is an interesting read as well. The "characters" themselves seem particularly myopic and is very difficult to believe these people shape what the rest of the world gets to watch on television. The book itself is well-written in an easy-going narrative style. A good read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book. Bill Carter is the best in the world when it comes to reporting the behind-the-scenes machinations of network television. He obviously had the extensive cooperation of Les Moonves, Jeff Zucker and other important players. As a result, you get rich, turn-by-turn accountings of such thrilling events as how 'Survivor' was born and how 'Desperate Housewives' made it to the screen. Carter captures the seminal moments when 'Survivor' and 'Housewives' creators Mark Burnett and Marc Cherry (respectively) finally break through, each overcoming very long odds. It's spine-tingling stuff.

'Desperate Housewives' is simply superb reporting from Bill Carter. Anyone with an interest in finding out how creative product goes from vision to reality will devour this book. It clocks in at a little under 400 pages...I'd be willing to read 800 pages of material like this from Mr. Carter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Politics and luck October 20, 2006
This was a really fascinating book. It started off slowly (the first pages were tedious) and the writing is disjointed. The author jumps from time period to time period and network to network almost convulsively. You'll be reading about NBC in 2004 and then next thing you know it's ABC in 2000 and then back to CBS in 2005.

That said, the story is compelling: networks passing on shows like Desperate Housewives, Simon Cowell doing American Idol in the hope of discovering talent for his record company. Careers depend on the ability to predict what the public will watch, and what they will and won't watch isn't as obvious as one might think, even to people in the business with years of experience.

If you have any interest in television, personal politics, or the fallibilities of corporate execs, this is an interesting read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
If you are like me and love almost all things television, this is an interesting look at what it takes to get shows on the screen and how networks battle for a particular show. Once you can get behind the long title, you'll learn so much that you probably didn't know before.

Apparently, Desperate Housewives was passed by NBC, CBS etc until finally someone at ABC gave it a go and look at what happend. Nobody at NBC or CBS would give Mark Cherry a go because he didn't have a reputation anymore.

He talks about how the people who 'green light' Lost, Grey's Anatomy were on their way out the door and almost fired when they stumbled across these now hits. How Friends' producers never wanted the show to be set around a coffee shop. They wanted them to be around a diner. How Jeff Zucker founded a show's supersizing.

This is a great eye-opening look at the behind the scenes moves that go on all the time that we are mostly unaware of. I really loved it and though it's a bit heavy at times, it's mostly really enjoyable and fun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How did THAT get on TV??!! July 30, 2013
Ever wonder why certain shows get on TV, stay on TV, and last behind their prime but stay on the air anyway? This book is your answer. The author goes behind the scenes of the 4 major networks to determine how they try to stay on top of their ratings, and also keep their advertisers happy. I particularly enjoyed the section that discussed why and how 'Friends" was kept on the air for despite reluctance from the actors (And some stale storylines). You also see the leadership styles of the different network presidents; Jeff Zucker seemed to have no original vision for NBC, he was just content to keep stretching out its past successful formulas, vs the FOX leadership that was willing to put almost anything on the air for ratings! A wonderful look behind the business of show business and an answer to anyone who wants to know how 'such garbage' or this 'great new show' ends up their screens.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Only the strong... December 12, 2013
The world of TV is cutthroat no matter how you look at it. Desperate Networks by Bill Carter explores the industry at a time when it's being upended by the ceaseless internet revolution. It's more than cutthroat, it's a disruptive madness. And only the strong and lucky will survive.

This is a satisfying book if you're looking for a business insider's take on the world of prime time TV. And while I discovered it nearly 10 years after the topic season in question, 2004-05, I still found it relevant. I'm reminded of the quote from screenwriter William Goldman for any time the pundits try to predict the next big hit: "Nobody knows anything."
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1.0 out of 5 stars Boring July 28, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I could not get past the 2nd chapter it was so boring. I could not put down TOP OF THE ROCK.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Insight Into the Industry
While this book is now a little dated, it's a fascinating and gripping book providing insight into the television industry. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Sarah Matte
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody knows nuthin'
I bought this book years ago after making "The Late Shift" an annual read. Carter didn't disappoint. Read more
Published 15 months ago by David J. Neal
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Insightful
This book tells insightful stories about the inner workings of the television industry. It's a must read for anyone who wants to know about the decision makers at the four major... Read more
Published 17 months ago by yanik archer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great READ
A MUST READ for anyone who's in the television industry. It's a great read and great way to familiarize yourself with the big TV players in the industry.
Published on February 19, 2010 by D. TIE
5.0 out of 5 stars surprised me
Since I don't watch a lot of TV and have only watched one of the shows the book focuses on (heard of most of the rest of them though), I didn't expect to enjoy it nearly as much as... Read more
Published on June 28, 2008 by N
4.0 out of 5 stars Great look into the television industry
This book is a great insight into not only the network television industry as a whole, but also provides a very interesting look at the history of your favorite television networks... Read more
Published on June 10, 2008 by D. Franks
5.0 out of 5 stars An in-depth look @ network TV in the 21st century!
Having devoured Carter's 1994 book The Late Shift (a fascinating story of the Leno-Letterman late night TV battle) when it was released, I can safely say he's done it again w/this... Read more
Published on January 6, 2008 by Chuck Donegan
3.0 out of 5 stars A Desperate Writer's Attempt to Kiss Up to Networks
Bill Carter has spent years covering TV for the New York Times and in order to keep his inside sources, he needs to kiss up to them. Read more
Published on August 23, 2007 by Mediaman
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