THE SWEEPS: Behind the Scenes in Network TV by Mark & Cameron Stauth Christiansen

THE SWEEPS: Behind the Scenes in Network TV

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Media-mavens who watch the network ratings battles as intently as the comedy and mayhem on the screen should take to this hip West Coast miniseries on the '83 season at NBC Burbank. In the lineup are two young writer-hopefuls, WASPy black Tony Colvin and laid-back white Scott Gordon, who say good-by to gofering on the sale of a script, only to see their series buckle and fold. (""But listen to this. A film. About the TV ratings system. Like Network, only a takeoff on the power of the Nielsens. We'll call it The Sweeps."") Also: nightclub magician Harry Anderson, whose chance for stay-at-home security hangs on the iffy prospects of the oddball Night Court; ""midget John Belushi"" Curly Hubbert--from panhandler to hot property. Higher up in ""the land of Oz"" NBC chief Grant Tinker aims to turn the network around (after the Fred Silverman fizzle) with quality programming; Brandon Tartikoff, wunderkind president of NBC Entertainment (a Silverman and Tinker disciple), weighs, measures, and balances the pilot entries--including Silverman's tacky Three's Company clone, We Got It Made; various pilot producers push ahead with their varied wares, all more or less prepared to give the network what it wants. Says Allan Katz--scriptwriter for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family, writer-producer of The Cher Show, M*A*S*H, and Rhoda, now readying The National Snoop: ""You have the choice of doing a bad show or none at all--or fighting with them. The tendency is to rationalize. No matter how crazy the idea is, you're inclined to think 'it might work.' And if it does, it's the keys to the kingdom. Syndication rights will make you richer than God."" Also worked into the story are the history of NBC's award-winning Cheers and the personal history of star Ted Danson; the ""graylisting"" of politically-embarrassing Ed Asner; the unveiling of the season's lineup--to network affiliates and the press; the threats from cable and LP-TV. Plus: lots and lots of lesser personalities and industry sidelights. Christiansen and Stauth, two West Coast freelancers, have dexterously scripted the month-by-month drama in factoid form--without heroes or villains (Silverman excepted), and with a minimum of editorializing or sociologizing. None of this really gets us beyond ""the land of Oz"" either: nobody professes to know 1) what makes a success or 2) whether prime-time TV reflects or shapes public tastes. But, given a taste for the authors' heavily hip, lightly smart-ass treatment, it all makes for a fast-moving, tight-knit multistrand show.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow