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Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV Hardcover – May 1, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385533748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385533744
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"To detail the exuberant 1990s’ events in the Peacock Network’s ascendancy (with such shows as Frasier, Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, and ER) Littlefield and novelist Pearson interviewed more than 50 actors, writers, producers, agents and executives...Littlefield unleashed a ‘financial geyser’ at NBC, and these revelatory glimpses of those glory days make this one of the more entertaining books published about the television industry.”
--Publishers Weekly
 
"Littlefield's compulsively readable saga, Top of the Rock, is a great tale of folly."
--Dick Donahue for PW

"A fascinating oral history of shows like Seinfeld that defined an era."
--New York Daily News

“A chronicle of the last golden age of network television, [Top of the Rock] is the literary equivalent of a former NBC Thursday night lineup…Littlefield is the ultimate Must See insider. The mini-histories are a blast…full of fresh detail.”
--The Hollywood Reporter

"The former president of entertainment at NBC chronicles his tenure with the peacock with a little help from his friends, including Jerry Seinfeld, Kelsey Grammar, Sean Hayes, and a few assorted suits who helped him schedule and nuture some of the most memorable shows on the tube, including Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld. And as entertained as audiences were by those programs, the real show was happening behind the scenes, where larger-than-life egos clashed over details large and small. Readers interested in the history of the network or simply wanting to hear the dish, as well as others interested in breaking into the TV biz, will find much to enjoy in this charming reliving of Littlefield's glory days."
--Booklist

"With entertaning insider's perspective, Littlefield transports readers back to a seemingly magical time when half the country would watch the same show."
--Kirkus

About the Author

WARREN LITTLEFIELD is the former NBC president of entertainment. Previous to that, he was the NBC comedy executive who developed such hit shows as The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He currently runs his own television production company.

T. R. PEARSON
is the author of fourteen novels, including A Short History of a Small Place, and Warwolf. This is his fifth nonfiction book.

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Customer Reviews

I found myself skimming through much of it, as there was very little "meat" to this book.
Marilyn Garfinkel
With Top of the Rock, former NBC executive Littlefield has created a fantastic look back at his former network's astounding success of the 1980s and 1990s.
Craig
One thing I did like as I read the book was the appreciation for talent that many of these people had, which seems to be missing often in TV today.
Timothy Haugh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If ever there was a book I was looking forward to, it was Warren Littlefield's account of his days as NBC President of Entertainment. "Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV," however, ends up getting somewhat of a mixed reaction. Littlefield ushered in and supported a new era of quality network programming that raised NBC to the level of appointment television. The book has fascinating nuggets of information about a myriad of shows that I grew up with including Seinfeld, Cheers, ER, Mad About You, Frasier, Will and Grace, and Friends among others. It seemed a simple recipe for success, and one that's gone out of fashion with contemporary network TV. Bring in talent and let them do what they're good at. While sometimes this tale can seem self-serving or boastful, the talent and executives that make up the primary text seem to support Littlefield's pivotal role (and I certainly have no need or wish to question that assertion). Indeed, it was a time of TV that I'll always remember.

And yet, with such a terrific and broad topic, "Top of the Rock" sometimes feels stronger in parts than it does as a whole. Maybe there was simply too much material. Far from a comprehensive accounting of anything in particular, this is snapshots of history. There is a certain randomness to what is covered and at what length. When the book is digging deep, it can be absolutely riveting. Most of the time, however, topics are introduced and dismissed with little development. Chapters can spend 20 pages talking about a show's premiere and 1 page on the following decade when it aired. It is so hit or miss in its presentation, I became absolutely frustrated in the telling. But still, if you love entertainment stories--this would be hard for me not to recommend.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Lee Goldberg VINE VOICE on May 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book isn't so much written as it is transcribed... a collection of raw excerpts, snippets really, from interviews conducted with the key actors, writers, producers, agents, schedulers, and lawyers behind NBC's 1990s hits... and, of course, quotes from Littlefield himself. He and co-author T.R. Pearson are going for the feel of an oral history, but it comes off as disjointed and scattershot.

There are some interesting facts and anecdotes revealed along the way, but much of the book felt like an excuse for Littlefield to settle a couple of old scores. Way too much of the book involves Littlefield and his former subordinates trashing Kelsey Grammer (described as a difficult actor with bad judgment and a substance abuse problem) and NBC president Don Ohlmeyer (depicting him as a boorish drunk with no creative instincts who contributed nothing to the success of the network's schedule) and touting his creative brilliance. It may all be true, but it still felt like sour grapes and became very tiresome.

All in all, it's worth reading if you're student of TV history, but it's not a very good book... not nearly as fascinating, revealing or well written as Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN, Susanne Daniels' recent memoir of programming the WB, which later merged with its rival UPN to create the CW, a book I highly recommend.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nathan A. Gordon on May 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Warren Littlefield and his co-author T.R. Pearson used the device of providing excerpts from oral interviews (from around 50 people) to demonstrate all that he accomplished as the former NBC President of Entertainment. There is so much back-story available here, real inside information as to the production and eventual end of such great shows as Cheers, Frazier, Seinfeld, E.R. and Will and Grace that makes this book a very worthwhile read to people interested in television show production. Essentially, Mr. Littlefield's overarching theme is that the best way, in fact, the only way, to secure quality television is to let the creative people do their work with minimal involvement from the network suits. Based on NBC's ratings during most of his reign (as set forth by Mr. Littlefield), he may be right but, of course, as he points out, thanks to technology, the television business was quite different in the 1990s than today.

Given the amount of people involved in each show, it is unclear for a reader to determine how much credit should be given to Mr.Littlefield's contributions to each of these and other shows through the years but the quotes attributed to the people interviewed (from Jerry Seinfeld to Jim Burrows to Bob Wright to Jack Welch) suggest that it was indeed substantial. If this book has a second theme, it would be to serve as documentation that James Burrows was the greatest thing to ever happen to television sitcoms and that former NBC executive Dan Ohlmeyer (who was eventually allowed to fire Littlefield) was a chronic and moving obstacle.

Mr. Littlefield's former boss, the now deceased Brandon Tartikoff, once said that Mr. Littlefield was like a cockroach who could survive a nuclear war. We get to see those survival instincts in this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J. Keesing on May 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It's an enjoyable book with an highly placed insider's perspective but falls short of being a useful history of this period in television programing and should more properly be considered a memoir. This stretch of NBC prominence from the 80's and the 90's calls for a much more detailed treatment say, by someone such as Bill Carter (Late Shift, Desperate Networks, etc.). Here the era's various aspects would receive a fuller analytical treatment and be compared and contrasted with the competition.

Littlefield seems conflicted over his inheritance, yes, NBC's eighties shows were getting tired and challenged by increasing viewer segmentation caused by the rise of "cable networks" and their programming, but he was chosen to lead a mature organization with considerable success, hardly what one would term, "left holding the bag". Indeed, "Must See TV" might be better seen as adaptive and capitalizing on the 1980's successes and advancing it in the 1990's.

I found the approach of carrying or bolstering his framework narrative with numerous individuals' anectodal observations distracting (to his credit a list of these parties is provided so a reader who's not in the business has a frame of reference). Yes, there are flashes of insight here and there but these short narratives don't always complement what the author is trying to convey. Littlefield says the book took two and half years to complete, presumably tied to getting material from his sources--perhaps working with a co-author (the one described as a novelist) with more of a television historian's background or a more demanding editor would have improved the work.

All in all, it's entertaining but leaves you wishing for more.
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