Offbeat recollections that provide a well-rounded, if sometimes bland and parochial, account of a pioneering broadcaster's...


BEATING THE ODDS: The Untold Story Behind the Rise of ABC

Offbeat recollections that provide a well-rounded, if sometimes bland and parochial, account of a pioneering broadcaster's career without imparting much insight on either his personal life or the industries in which he flourished. Goldenson, 85, had a comfortable youth in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town where his father was a prosperous merchant. A graduate of Harvard and its law school, he joined Paramount Pictures in mid-1933. Sent to Boston to help straighten out the New England movie-house chain, he began a steady ascent through the organizational ranks. By 1950, Goldenson was head of Paramount Theatres, an independent enterprise courtesy of a 1948 antitrust decree that separated film studios from their exhibition circuits. Shortly after the breakup became official, the author made a deal for American Broadcasting Co., an also-ran network with a decidedly modest census of affiliates, a surfeit of debt, and limited credibility with program producers as well as advertisers. The absorbing details of how ABC managed to survive and thrive, eventually besting both CBS and NBC in the ratings wars to become TV's top gun, constitute the bulk of Goldenson's story. He does not tell the tale on his own, giving almost equal time to a host of superstars and less-celebrated colleagues. Their ranks encompass the oddly coupled likes of Roone Arledge, Art Buchwald, Dick Clark, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Peter Jennings, Fred Silverman, Aaron Spelling, Danny Thomas, Barbara Walters, David Wolper, and dozens of others. While the testimonial commentary yields many illuminating anecdotes, it also mutes Goldenson's own voice and in certain respects makes his narrative more a mosaic than a coherent memoir. Moreover, beyond the author's obvious distaste for the corporate raiders with whom he did battle and his yeoman efforts to stamp out cerebral palsy (which claimed the life of a daughter), the text affords precious little sense of the man. Nor, except for briefly recounting the reasons he decided to merge ABC with Capital Cities in 1985, does Goldenson offer much perspective on the widening and increasingly competitive world of TV. These cavils apart, fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses, autobiographical and otherwise, of a show-biz maestro.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1990

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