Pondering the Ponderosa

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I’ve been reading a bunch of TV and movie reference books lately, most of which have been a disappointment.

There’s a great book to be written about the writing and production of BONANZA, something akin to the brilliant and comprehensive GUNSMOKE: A COMPLETE HISTORY. Sadly, A REFERENCE GUIDE TO BONANZA by Bruce Leiby and Linda F. Lieby, now out in paperback, isn’t it. A scant eight pages — eight pages!– are given to the creation, writing and production of the show. The bulk of the book is a workman-like episode guide to the 14 seasons and brief synopses of the TV movies, hardly worth the price of purchase. The only thing interesting and worthwhile about the book are the appendices listing various BONANZA merchandise, books, comics, and records. However, I wish the effort the authors put into gathering so much pointless information — like listing all the shows available on video featuring Tim Matheson — had been focused instead on giving us the definitive history of the show. Consider this a lost opportunity.

The same can be said of STEPHEN J. CANNELL PRODUCTIONS.

The Show Must Go On

51tnYP0UMrL._SS500_Don’t be fooled by the title of Douglas Snauffer’s new book, The Show Must Go On: How The Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series…this is not a lurid or gossipy book but rather a serious, well-researched, detailed reference work about the business of television.

On the surface, the book is about what happens to a TV show when one of its stars dies, covering the impact of the calamity from every angle. But that death is just one part of the story. Douglas Snauffer, author of the exceptional Crime Television, gives us the full picture of the show, before and after the tragedy that may (or may not) have ultimately defined that series in TV history. Each chapter offers an in-depth look at the creation, development, production, and history of an individual series. It’s that detailed examination of each series — backed by interviews with all the key players in front of, and behind — the camera that gives this book it’s real value.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know how TV series are created, written and produced…and why some succeed while others fail.

I Spy a Great Book

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Open Channel D! Wesley Britton has accomplished a mission impossible — he's written the ultimate reference work on TV Spies on-the-air, in print, and even in music. Get Smart — the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TV SPIES is now available for pre-order from the publisher and you should grab it. 

Britton’s book is a long overdue and desperately needed reference work is not only a detailed and complete listing of every spy show on TV, it also includes appendices on TV spy soundtracks and novelizations that, on their own, are well worth the purchase price.  This richly detailed encyclopedia will satisfy both the curiosity of fans and the scholarly needs of researchers. But it's not fanboy drool nor is it dry and academic. Britton clearly loves his subject and approaches it with enthusiasm that comes through on every page. I strongly recommend it!

The Only Crime is the Cover Price

0275988074_01__ss500_sclzzzzzzz_ I stayed up almost all night reading Douglas Snauffer’s CRIME TELEVISION. This is the latest in Praeger’s excellent line of television books (which includes SPY TELEVISION and CHRISTMAS ON TELEVISION, two other books I loved). Snauffer’s fascinating overview of television crime shows is much, much more than a look at the histories of particular shows over the decades. He offers a unique and revealing perspective on the history of television as a medium, a story-telling form, and as a reflection of our society and culture. It’s also a step-by-step examination of the evolution (and, you might say, the maturing) of the crime show genre. It’s packed with interesting facts, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and interviews with some the top writer/producers of our time. There are some errors, and you could quibble with the shows he choses to focus on, but those are minor drawbacks. It’s a valuable book for cop show fans, tv scholars, film students, and even writer/producers working in “crime television” today. The only problem is that the book costs $50, which is way, way, WAY over-priced for what it is and that’s going to limit its potential audience.