Boob Tube Books

Say what you will about television, it has long been the way that baby boomers have learned about their world as well as their main source for escapism even now in this digital world. Surprisingly the publishing industry has not released as many books on TV as one would expect but that is starting to change as evidenced by some new releases that have hit the shelves of book stores.

Live From New York” by James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales   (Little, Brown)

       You know that you are a baby boomer if you can remember back when NBC would rerun “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” on Saturdays at 11:30 following the local news which followed “Saturday Night At The Movies.”

“Saturday Night Live” debuted on October 11, 1975 with George Carlin as the host and Billy Preston and Janis Ian as the musical guests. The late comedy actor Andy Kaufman also performed that night. It’s not hyperbole to state the “SNL” revolutionized television, and despite numerous ups and downs, it has become a cultural institution as it’s now in its 40th season.

Politicians are routinely satirized by its cast and writers but nowadays a “Saturday Night Live” appearance is almost obligatory for presidential candidates. Sarah Palin would have faded into obscurity had it not been for Tina Fey’s wickedly funny impression of her.

“Live From New York” is an oral history of “Saturday Night Live” and it’s a tribute to authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales that they were able to gather testimony from nearly every living cast member, many former hosts and musical guests, as well as current and past NBC executives. The first printing of “Live From New York” was a decade ago but it has now been updated in honor of this milestone season.

As expected , a lot of the attention is focused on longtime behind-the-scenes SNL leader, Lorne Michaels. Even though Michaels did deign to speak to the authors he is still a rather enigmatic figure.

What is most interesting to me was learning the thoughts of those cast members whose contracts were not renewed and were told that they were dismissed for budgetary reasons. One such performer was Horatio Sanz who was one of the very few Hispanics in the cast. Surprisingly he did not mention any bitterness at the show’s failure to nurture Latin talent.

The 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live” is being celebrated by a confectionary company, It’Sugar, with candies named in honor of classic “SNL” bits such as the Coneheads Candy Bar, Debbie Downer Mints, and “Pete’s Famous Schweddy (Chocolate) Balls.”

“Jerk: How I Wasted My Wasted Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman (Self)

       Adam Buckman was the New York Post’s long-time television critic and as you can tell from the title, he has a terrific self-deprecating wit.

One thing is certain; Buckman has never been in awe of big names. He details his sparring with Jerry Seinfeld and Howard Stern. Seinfeld was upset with an article he had written about the quality of his eponymous show starting to decline as it entered its ninth season in 1997. Howard Stern likes to dish it out but apparently doesn’t react to criticism well. He went into a screed on his radio show when Adam wrote about what appeared to be the lazy effort he was putting into his Saturday night TV show that ran on a few CBS stations. The truth is that Adam was right; when he is on his game very few are a better listen on radio than Howard Stern is. On the other hand, “The King Of All Media” has been known to phone it in on more than one occasion.

Buckman gives us insight into the philosophy of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. “Other newspapers treat celebrities with kid gloves. We use boxing gloves!” Nowhere was that more evident than when the Post understandably got upset with David Letterman for giving interviews with the Times and the Daily News but snubbed them. From that moment on, the Post became Jay Leno’s unofficial publicist.

The celebrity who disappointed him the most in an interview was Will Smith. In spite of the fact that Adam informed him that he dad attended the same Philadelphia high school that Smith did, he was stone-faced and recalcitrant.

Being a thorough TV historian, Buckman devotes a chapter to a segment of television entertainers who tend to be overlooked by the mainstream media–game show hosts.

This book shows that Adam Buckman is far from a jerk. If you’re a TV buff, pick this one up.

“The Simpsons Family History” by Matt Groening     (Abrams)

     “Saturday Night Live” is not the only broadcast network show commemorating a milestone. Fox’s “The Simpsons” has entered its 25th season. To celebrate, Abrams Books has released a coffee table book on TV’s best known animated family.

The good news is that it features terrific artwork from “Simpsons” creator, Matt Groening of Homer and the gang from over the years. The bad news is that there is absolutely no commentary from any of the writers or cast of the show.

This is for die-hard “Simpsons” fans only, and yes, there are a lot of you.

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