BEYOND CONTROL: ABC and the Fate of the Networks by Huntington Williams

BEYOND CONTROL: ABC and the Fate of the Networks

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Insider dope on the network that brought us Ben Casey, Happy Days, and Dynasty, dressed up to look like a sophisticated probe of ABC's role in the broadcasting industry. Network history, via former ABC speech writer Williams, is a sudsy drama filled with ""terrible betrayals"" and ""strange nights"" played out in the executive suite--more like warmed-over hallway gossip than penetrating analysis. Do we care which exec secretly consulted a psychic, or who slept with Machiavelli on his night table? Potentially captivating details about network dealings--how programming decisions are made, how series are developed, and how news and sports events are covered--are missing from this account. Williams' personal approach works best when chronicling the rise of the networks in the 40's and 50's through the lives of Paley at CBS, Sarn off at NBC, and Goldenson at ABC, because in large part these men did kick off network TV. But soon the author is shifting clumsily from behind-the-scenes gossip to dry accounts of FCC rulings, industry deregulation, and satellite and cable technology. Analysis of the 1985 Capital Cities takeover of ABC, for instance--which set the stage for similar moves at the other two networks, and which Williams promotes in his introduction as a most significant event in broadcasting history--is passed over in favor of nattering about John DeLorean's drug snafu and ex-wife Cristina Ferrare's affair with an ABC high-roller. Williams' florid prose strains to comprehend the magnitude of events portrayed--e.g., ""their network experience had entered the Twilight Zone""--but ends as a perverse landscape of clich‚s. Better stick with more sensible fare, like Erik Barnouw's Tube of Plenty (revised, 1982) or Todd Gitlin's Vertical Hold (1983.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Atheneum