STAY TUNED: An Inside Look at the Making of Prime Time Television by Richard & William Link Levinson
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STAY TUNED: An Inside Look at the Making of Prime Time Television

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Levinson and Link are one of television's classiest writing/producing teams--from the savvy charm of early Columbo to the earnest right-mindedness of such TV-films as That Certain Summer. And this memoir-cum-essay, with closeups of a half-dozen pet projects (representative of some promising TV trends), is a valuable, often absorbing, addition to the sparse literature of inside-TV testimony. Starting off with a somewhat overreaching defense of TV's non-junk side (""In any given year the best television movies are better than all but a few theatrical motion pictures and plays for the legitimate stage""), the authors quickly move on to their first writer years in early-Sixties Hollywood: ""rehashing the pop forms of our childhood"" for assorted series, with only a little fun (The Rogues) and a little controversy (after their Dr. Kildare episode on funeral practices, ""our producer wryly advised us not to die until it all blew over""). By 1967, however, ""long-form"" TV was in the air, and L&L signed up with Universal--despite the studio's ""sausage factory"" reputation. And though their first assignment--""The Virginian on a train""--was depressing, they were eventually allowed to develop a serious TV-movie. . . and to produce it themselves: TV's ""hyphenate"" key to artistic control. This was the racially sensitive My Sweet Charlie, and L&L's production log is an involving merry-go-round of actor problems, location-work problems, network-censor problems (""Spent an hour trading 'niggers; for 'damns'""). . . and yet ""an example of the Hollywood studio system at its occasional best."" Then came Columbo--with some affectionately hilarious star-problems (Peter Falk ""may have been a monster, but he was our monster"") and an illuminating hour-by-hour breakdown of a series-producer's typical, epically hassled day. ""Controversy on Television"" is represented Joy That Certain Summer, the story of a homosexual father and his son: L&L bowed to some network demands for changes (presented at a ""Mad Tea Party"" by ABC's buffoon-like experts on law and psychiatry) but wound up offending militants on both sides anyway. And there are somewhat less effective chapters on The Execution of Private Slovik (the authors don't really address the thorny problems with many ""docu-dramas""); The Gun--which raises, but doesn't explore, the timely question of pressure-groups; and The Storyteller--with a once-over-lightly treatment of the violence-on-TV debate. Still, if this sometimes misses the right balance between specific cases and larger issues, virtually all the crucial talking points (from the Fairness Doctrine to ""Performer Q Ratings"") are at least touched on. And while Levinson and Link may spend a bit too much time patting themselves on the back, their book strains for balance and is free of personal self-indulgence--almost to a fault, since the writers speak throughout in a single voice, with no suggestion of two personalities or any conflicts between them. Little of the acerbic exposÉ-fun of Only You, Dick Daring!, then, but perhaps an even more useful resource: essential reading for those interested in where TV's been and where it's going.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's