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Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN

Season FinaleOrder this bookStory: Industry insiders trace the two rival attempts to create the “fifth network” of the 1990s – Warner Brothers’ WB network and the United Paramount Network, from the earliest discussions of starting them through their mutual decline and merger into the 21st century CW network. Spoiler: neither of the networks, only a handful of the networks’ shows, and only some of their executives’ careers, make it out of the story alive.

Review: As a promo writer/producer at two UPN stations in the 1990s – one in Arkansas, one in Wisconsin – it was my job to try to make all of the network’s shows look good to our audience, as best I could, with the material the network made available to us. It wasn’t easy. UPN was a schizophrenic beast: hip, urban humor one night, sci-fi the next night. And when the network suddenly claimed all five weeknights for its fall 1998 season, that wild spread of shows and genres got even wilder. I always wanted to know: how did those decisions get made, who made them, and why did the promotional push for that…diverse (trying to be charitable there)…1998 season seem to evaporate as soon as the shows premiered?

Written by WB programming executive Suzanne Daniels and Daily Variety reporter Cynthia Littleton (likely drawing from her own coverage of UPN), Season Finale answers that question and many more. Continue reading

The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011

The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011Order this bookStory: A mashup of fiction, behind-the-scenes fact and a treasure trove of photos, the Brilliant Book covers Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor. Profiles of the show’s stars and creative staff include looks at the production of the 2010 season and glimpses into the history of the show. The Dream Lord put in an appearance to drop vaguely spoilery hints about the 2011 season, but those hints are wedged in between lots of misleading red herrings and other total fabrications.

Review: When I was a kid and Doctor Who was on the cusp of being in vogue in America in the 1980s, Doctor Who books usually shared many qualities – they were nifty hardbacks with nice cover art, they had gobs of information about the show’s past that you were unlikely to find anywhere else in the days before the web and the commercial availability of every complete story in existence, and they also usually happened to be compiled by the late Peter Haining (I hesitate to use the word “written” because Haining made an art form out of collating essays and other content that was written by others). Not unlike the show that inspired it, Haining’s books were wordy and progressed at a very leisurely pace (even for non-fiction), and contained lots of exlamation points!

By contrast, “Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2010” changes topics, typographical/layout styles and authors every few pages – a sort of printed representation of the breakneck pace at which the Doctor’s adventures unfold in the modern series. Continue reading

I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol / 12 Days on the Road / Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Three books tell the story of legendary punk band the Sex Pistols.

Review: My fascination with the Sex Pistols began with my brother giving me the documentary The Filth and the Fury for either my birthday or Christmas one year with the cryptic words “You don’t know you want this.” He followed that up with John Lydon’s autobiography, “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”, but I just couldn’t get into it, not getting past the first few pages before I put it down. But about a year later, I acquired a different book on the Sex Pistols by their US tour manager, Noel Monk; “12 Days on the Road”, the story of the band’s raucous career-ending tour. With its much more visceral feel and crazy stories right off the bat, it was much easier to get into. So after finishing that, I went back to “Rotten” and then bought original bass player Glen Matlock’s autobiography “I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol”. Three very different perspectives on the story of the band lead to three very different books. Ultimately, they compliment each other, helping to give a more rounded view than any one book would have done alone. Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – A Vision Of The Future

Star Trek: Voyager - A Vision Of The FutureOrder this bookStory: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the first two seasons of Voyager, including the torturous pre-production process of developing the show’s premise.

Review: This book received much pre-release hype as being a product of the same author who penned the justly acclaimed 1968 behind-the-scenes story of “The Making of Star Trek”, though this time writing under his own name instead of the pseudonym of “Stephen E. Whitfield.” Since Poe’s definitive tome inspired many later works, including the excellent books by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, it stands to reason that surely he can exceed his own previous work and give us a Star Trek behind-the-scenes book like no one else can. Continue reading

The Making Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The Making Of Star Trek: Deep Space NineOrder this bookStory: The authors go behind the scenes of the first two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, talking extensively with producers, writers, designers, make-up artists, special effects technicians, oh, and actors too – from the original premise and character lineup to the changes that were made and why they were made, touching on every step of the production process along the way.

Review: It’s rather ironic that the most poorly-marketed Star Trek spinoff (with the possible exception of Enterprise) has turned out to be the best documented one. Paramount initially threw tons of money at the launch of Deep Space Nine, and then backed off – there was a new Trek movie to promote, as well as yet another spinoff series upon which an entire network, and not just syndicated advertising profits, would be riding. From about the middle of year 2 onward, DS9 got the short end of the Star Trek stick. Continue reading

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine CompanionOrder this bookStory: A season-by-season guide to the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Includes season overviews, episode summaries, behind-the-scenes info and insights, photos, production drawings, and anecdotes.

Review: As a huge fan of Deep Space Nine, I had patiently waited for a definitive episode guide to my favorite Trek incarnation. Fortunately for all of us with limited budgets, Pocket Books refrained from releasing a guide until the series had run its course, instead of releasing three or so versions with a little added each time.

So it was with great glee I ripped open that box from Amazon.com and grasped the official episode guide to DS9. The first thing that struck me was that it’s friggin’ huge. Weighing in at over 720 pages, the thing nearly has its own weather! The cover is also very nice, with a nice collage of the station, wormhole, and Sisko. And as much as I like the U.S.S. Defiant, I was pleased to see it absent from the cover. After all, the show was really about the three entities thusly displayed. Continue reading

G-Force: Animated

G-Force: AnimatedOrder this bookStory: The authors chronicle the origins and history of, and public reaction to, both the Japanese animè series Kagakaninjatai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and its heavily re-edited American counterpart, Battle Of The Planets, imported by U.S. syndication pioneer Sandy Frank. Cast members and the makers of the shows are interviewed extensively, and the recent revival of interest in the shows are covered in terms of merchandise and an extensive interview with Alex Ross, artistic director of a new latter-day Battle Of The Planets comic. (Ross also contributes the cover artwork.)

Review: A fascinating, one-of-a-kind guide to a classic animè series and its distinctly different but joined-at-the-hip Americanization, “G-Force: Animated” contains a wealth of information I’d never seen or heard elsewhere. It seems like a fairly thin book for the price, but for one thing, it’s an oversized trade paperback, and for another, I imagine a great deal of the price is tied into the licensing from both Tatsunoko Productions and Sandy Frank. It’s also full color throughout (with a great many rare merchandise photos, initial character design sketches, animation cels, and so on). It may not be cheap, but if you’re a fan of either or both of these shows, this is the only game in town. Continue reading

Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion

Battlestar Galactica: The Official CompanionOrder this bookStory: With complete access to the cast and behind-the-scenes crew of Sci-Fi Channel’s new version of Battlestar Galactica, author David Bassom traces the story of the making of the series, from the first murmurs of a revival series under the auspices of Bryan Singer (ultimately abandoned) through the fan reaction to the first season.

Review: It’s hammered home numerous times that Ronald D. Moore wanted nothing less than to reinvent the science fiction genre on TV with this show, and while it can be argued rather easily that he has succeeded in doing just that, “Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion” spells out his plans for doing so and how he put hose plans into action with this show. From the pitch to sell the re-imagined show through the series bible through material distributed to the cast, a Moore-written document about a less stylized, more naturalistic approach to SF is mentioned. If anything, it’s actually one of this book’s biggest omissions that, as many times as that document is mentioned, it isn’t reprinted anywhere. That aside, it’s at the heart of Galactica’s reinvention. Continue reading

Don’t Panic! – The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion

Don't Panic! - The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy CompanionOrder this bookStory: Coming from a somewhat unexpected source, this book can’t seem to decide if it’s a biography of Douglas Adams, or the definitive history of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” story as told in multitudes of media. But in any case, it would be virtually impossible to write the former without at least temporarily lapsing into the latter, so it’s okay. Neil’s just zis guy, ya know?

Review: Though there are wonderfully large amounts of previously unknown information about the behind-the-scenes machinations of “Hitchhiker’s Guide” on TV, on radio, in print, and – gasp! – on stage, I really have to single out the section on Adams’ fan mail as the most hilarious portion of the book. The fan mail itself isn’t that funny; in fact, some of it comes across as positively disturbing. But Adams’ answers never fail to give me a good belly laugh – especially at the thought that the original letter writers probably turned around and tried to read something into them! Continue reading

Doctor Who: A Celebration

Doctor Who: A CelebrationBuy this book in theLogBook.com StoreStory: In the first major published retrospective work on the BBC’s science fiction series Doctor Who, writer and editor Peter Haining assembles a history of the show and a variety of essays from its stars and makers, past and (as of the 20th anniversary of the show’s 1963 premiere) present. Fan archivist Jeremy Bentham turns in a large portion of the book almost uncredited, giving a critical and historical rundown of every adventure to date.

Review: The first of Peter Haining’s many books about Doctor Who, “A Celebration” has the benefit, even in hindsight, of being the first such tome, and to someone who had, in 1983, just a working knowledge of the show, this book was a revelation, unearthing a vast wealth of knowledge and photographic material to my young eyes. I grumble about how Haining made a career out of these books, reorganizing the same information over and over again until the later books became a case study of diminishing returns, but “A Celebration” is a fine piece of work on its own. Continue reading