Switching scenery and stories like an expert channel-changer, an Emmy Award–winning TV writer, producer, and director depicts the vicissitudes of the broadcast life, taking apart its protagonist from a hundred different angles and editing them together into a rough but enlightening tale.
Brown’s semiconfessional debut has a lot to fit in, but manages to do so without ever seeming rushed. Caesar Fortunato is an Italian guy from South Philly who—more through luck and accident than early career-building skill—ended up at a mere 19 directing live television shows at the local affiliate. Decades later, in his late-middle-age, Caesar has a shelf full of directing and producing Emmys, two estranged children, a younger and bitter wife, a severe lack of perspective, and habits involving controlled substances, prostitutes, and gambling that could generously be described as problematic. Sick of his profligate ways and relentless flaunting of authority, Caesar’s new boss, a hard-nosed ex-Marine who knows nothing about TV and could care less about Caesar’s skill and innovations (e.g., the instant replay and blimp shots) decides to harass the man out of his contract. Instead of being insulted by the order to direct a saccharine, live Disney special, the tyrannical and bile-filled Caesar leaps at the opportunity to go ridiculously overbudget and to fill the screen with as much lewd filth as he can dredge up. Brown recounts the rise and fall (and rise and fall) of Caesar’s career in short flashes, always coming back to the breathlessly detailed scenes of high-wire tension in the control rooms where the buzz that keeps Caesar coming back for more is palpable. Media insiders will scour these pages for references to oversized figures like James Cameron and what appears to be a caricature of Howard Cosell.
Brown’s got a bad habit of getting too close to real life, then backing off into over-the-top satire. Still, he spins a pretty thrilling story of the power of addiction—in all its forms.