After a deliciously sly novel about the dark side of the music business (A&R, 2000) comes a deliciously sly novel about the underbelly of the TV industry—from someone who’s worked both vineyards.
There’s no real meanness in Bobby Kahn, no big-time cruelty—we’re talking Bobby, not Genghis—but, face it, he is something of a scapegrace, whose moral compass keeps pointing in uncertain directions. Actually, the most noteworthy thing about Bobby, the thing that ultimately defines him, is his enduring love affair with television. In particular, he’s drawn to its programming and production aspects, and his philosophy goes something like this: Get the programming part right and the ratings must follow, as well as the advertising dollars. Get the programming wrong and there’s a consequent short fall in meat and potatoes. Not too long ago, Bobby was one of his network’s boy wonders, and then the TV hotshot got caught fudging reality on his reality show. The ensuing scandal sent the network’s senior suits running for cover. “The posse’s getting close. We need to throw them a body,” was the panicky outcry. The body, of course, turned out to be Bobby’s, and after ten prime-time years, he was cancelled. Enter those seemingly simple folk from New Bedlam, R.I., with their pint-sized cable operation. Small, yes, but Skyler King had plans for King Cable, and they included Bobby. Just how is the essence of this lively, occasionally acid, picaresque novel, in which all the biters get bit, and entertainment and metaphor have a way of bumping along together.
While Bobby Kahn isn’t precisely Tom Jones, there’s a correlation Fielding would have recognized and enjoyed. As will others.