I heard someone recently say in an interview that producing “good television is a very hard work” and that lighting doesn’t always strike twice. That apparently is not always the case, according to Warren Littlefield’s account of the rise and fall of NBC’s “Must See TV” in his first book, “Top of the Rock.”
Littlefield was one of the architects of “Must See TV” and was president of NBC from 1993-1998. He’s responsible for (and in some cases gambling on) so many of the now classic television shows that my generation knows and loves: “The Cosby Show,” “Golden Girls,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Mad About You,” “Will & Grace,” “Cheers,” “”ER,” “Law and Order” and “Friends.”
Here, Littlefield and his cohorts … other NBC executives (both allies and enemies), producers, writers and the stars of the show tell the story of how “Must See TV” came about, its implications in popular culture and how it took one network from a dud to a division that generated billions in profit.
The concept of appointment television came about organically as NBC hit its stride with engaging and entertaining programming clustered together on Thursday night. While everyone interviewed contends it was very hard work, lighting was striking multiple times … heck, from the stories, it seems that NBC had somehow captured the secret to a winning formula and had it to spare.
For the television fan, “Top of the Rock” is a great oral history, filled with detail and anecdotes, some humorous, some shocking – until now who knew that Kelsey Grammar was living in his car when hired to play Dr. Frasier Crane on “Cheers,” a role which made him incredibly wealthy over the 20 years he played it or how close “Friends” came to losing a cast member during contract negotiations. This is one of those books that you just fly through. If you are familiar with NBC programming from the late ’80s to the late ’90s, you know the shows and the people interviewed. Fun read.