Cover of Top of the Rock the Rise of Fall of NBC's Must See TV

Synopsis from Goodreads

Warren Littlefield was the NBC President of Entertainment who oversaw the Peacock Network’s rise from also-ran to a division that generated a billion dollars in profitsIn this fast-paced and exceptionally entertaining oral history, Littlefield and NBC luminaries including Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wylie, Debra Messing, Jack Welch, Jimmy Burrows, Helen Hunt, and Dick Wolf vividly recapture the incredible era of Must See TV.

From 1993 through 1998, NBC exploded every conventional notion of what a broadcast network could accomplish with the greatest prime-time line-up in television history. On Thursday nights, a cavalcade of groundbreaking comedies and dramas streamed into homes, attracting a staggering 75 million viewers and generating more revenue than all other six nights of programming combined. The road to success, however, was a rocky one. How do you turn a show like Seinfeld, one of the lowest testing pilots of all time, into a hit when the network overlords are constantly warring, or worse, drowning in a bottle of vodka?   

Top of the Rock is an addictively readable account of the risky business decisions, creative passion, and leaps of faith that made Must See TV possible. Chock full of delicious behind-the-scenes anecdotes that run the gamut from hilarious casting and programming ploys to petty jealousies and drug interventions, you’re in for a juicy, unputdownable read.

My Thoughts

I’ve always been a huge TV fan and when I was younger I was all about NBC Must See TV. As part of my re-reading campaign for 2016 I thought I would re-read this one via audio-book. I will say that I didn’t love listening to it. The story of NBC’s Must See TV era of the 80s and 90s is told through snippets of interviews of NBC executives and the cast and creative talents of the shows… but the book is narrated by one person (not each of those people) so sometimes I would forget who’s story I was listening to. When I originally read the book it was easy to look back to the name of the person who started the story. Nonetheless, it was still fun to revisit.

This book covers so many TV shows. I thought I would share some of my favorite bits from some of the shows I watched. If you’re a fan of NBC comedies form the 80s and 90s I highly recommend it.

The Cosby Show

  • It was filmed in Brooklyn. I always assumed it was filmed in LA like most other sitcoms of the time.
  • Bill Cosby pushed to have the show set as a family show. The forces that be wanted it to be more about him solely.

Cheers

  • The casting process was interesting. It could have not been Ted Danson and Shelley Long.
  • The character of Woody was already named Woody… it wasn’t named after Woody Harrelson.

Seinfeld

  • Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David rewrote every episode of the show (I already knew this, but it’s an interesting fact… control freaks much?)
  • Seinfeld wasn’t a ratings success in the beginning, but NBC knew it was good so it stayed on the air.
  • Once Larry David left the show Jerry did pretty much everything. The main reason the show ended was because Jerry wanted to have a life… who can blame him. He as doing stand up throughout the course of the show too.
  • The network really wanted Jerry and Elaine to be a couple Jerry didn’t want that. In the beginning of the series there was a Jerry/Elaine focused episode that didn’t involve Kramer and George. Jason Alexander to them that if they did that again they would have to do it permanently. Good for him. It was the 4 of them that made that show.

Mad About You

  • NBC wanted it to be more of a Paul Reiser show, but he wanted it to be more realistic and about life. I love Paul and Jamie so much. I REALLY need to re-watch this series.

Friends
Friends is my all time favorite TV show. I think I was just a perfect age when it came out. I was a sophomore in high school watching these adults (they seem like kids to me now. Ha!) making their way through life. The show was with me through high school, college, and just after. It was impactful to me in a profound way. I used to quote it’s “life lessons” all the time.

Fun facts/thoughts:

  • I love how they came together as a cast. For some reason knowing actors get along makes me love a show even more.
  • During the first season, Lisa Kudrow kept thinking Jimmy Burrows was going to fire her since he basically fired her as Roz on Fraiser.
  • Courtney Cox kind of led the environment of the actors helping each other. When she had a guest spot on Seinfeld she saw how the cast kind of gave each other notes or comments and suggested the Friends cast do the same. The goal was just to create the best show they could.
  • Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry were on other shows when they were cast. If Matthew’s show hadn’t failed and Jennifer hadn’t been able to get out of her CBS contract what would my favorite TV show have ended up as? Scary thought!

Will And Grace

  • James Burrows directed every episode.
  • Debra Messing was hard to get and they really wanted her for Grace.
  • Megan Mullally slowly worked her Karen voice in over the course of the first season. She was afraid they would think it was too much, but I think we can all agree that we can’t imagine Karen Walker any other way.

 

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