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Do not stop Believing ?  Considering a golden age of television, 10 years later


Was there a series that inspired you to write this book?

It was “The Sopranos,” in the abstract and literal sense. I had been hired to write the official Coffee Table Companion in the final season. I may have overstayed my welcome, treated it like a real reporting job, stayed there long enough and had the opportunity to peek behind the scenes. It was a revelation to me: the size of the operation, the ambition, the way people talked about their work – the feeling that something very big was being achieved. The number of times I had to explain what a showrunner was back then is, in itself, an indicator of what an alien world was.

It’s such a funny term.

I realize how unromantic the technical term “showrunner” is. This is definitely something the Teamsters would propose. It’s so literal and so unartistic: you make things work. The term betrays the kind of factory mentality that applied to television at the time.

Did you consider yourself establishing a canon?

It was very obvious what at least three of the four main shows I was going to write about were, as well as most of the peripheral shows. In my original proposal, the fourth series was actually “Rescue Me” – a series whose early seasons had perhaps been unfairly forgotten but which seemed very much in keeping with these other series. It was extremely bold to be one of the first shows where 9/11 was covered in a comprehensive manner. My first editor pushed me to include “Battlestar Galactica,” but it really wasn’t my bag. And then “Breaking Bad” emerged as the book was written and very obviously became the ending location. There were the other HBO shows, and “The Shield” was also a milestone, but I didn’t leave many examples.

Did any of the shows in the book not hold up as much as you hoped?

Quite the contrary: Shows you thought might have been dated turned out to be fascinating in ways they might not even have been when they were on the air. The America of Tony Soprano, the America of Walter White and especially the America of “The Wire” have proven to be the dominant America over the last 20 years. “The Sopranos” has become this huge review of the pandemic, and I think it’s because it’s so recognizable: the themes – the rot in the middle of America, the suffering of American life, the anxiety by Tony Soprano – are very familiar to us now.

The younger generations have adopted “The Sopranos”; he appears in countless memes.

It’s great entertainment. It had to be: it had to be like entertainment network television in many ways. It still functioned as a Trojan horse. It had to be funny and human, and it had to be consumable because the artistic part, the ambitious part, was something that no one was looking for.

How did the men you wrote about react to your book?

I never heard a word from any of them, except Vince Gilligan, who wrote me a wonderful blurb on the back of the new edition. This is not surprising, as the book ends by pointing out that you don’t have to be so difficult to create these wonderful shows.