UP THE TUBE: Prime-Time TV in the Silverman Years by Sally Bedell

UP THE TUBE: Prime-Time TV in the Silverman Years

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Two books in one that don't quite mesh: the story of famed super-programmer Fred Silverman (up to, but not including, his recent ouster from NBC) and a roughly season-by-season overview of network TV in the 1970s. The Silverman material is just fine. Bedell (TV Guide) follows TV-repairman's son Freddie from radio/TV-buff childhood; to an Ohio State master's thesis assessing ABC programming, 1953-59 (""He had already concluded that quality programming could play only a limited role in the mass audience game""); to early success at Chicago's WGN as a cartoon-show producer (confirming ""his belief that children controlled television""); to CBS, first as daytime programmer, then as the star-wise, trend-wise programming chief who shifted All in the Family, from Monday to Saturday; to ABC in 1975 (""Frantic Freddie"" was temperamentally in conflict with urbane CBS), where his PR pushes and his obsessive research (""not so much the man with the golden gut as the man with the computer crutch"") helped to usher in the jiggle/farce era; and, finally, to NBC, where his ""total control"" approach staunched the flow of ideas and led to disaster. Bedell is certainly right in suggesting that ""Much of what happened to TV in the seventies was because of him or in reaction to him."" But she fails to make those links clear or interesting. So the other half of this book--summaries and characterizations of most of the shows that appeared on the tube during the decade--is sometimes dullish and often subject to a who-cares? reaction. (Bedell is also a glib, rather knee-jerky critic, frequently missing quality that others have found in ""low-brow"" shows.) And the connection between all this and the future of television--the network system threatened by cable, etc.--is only superficially introduced. As long as the focus is on Freddie, then, Bedell is a savvy, lively, appropriately jaundiced reporter. But when taking on more ambitious media history and culture-watching, the results are both overfamiliar and not fully persuasive.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Viking