Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reading In Front of the TV: Season Finale by Susanne Daniels and Cynthia Littleton

When Susanne Daniels joined the nascent WB network in 1995 as a TV development executive, she had a premonition that the experience would someday make her an author as well. A fan of TV tell-alls, Daniels had just finished reading Outfoxed, which detailed the early days of “fourth network” Fox in the mid 1980s. “I thought, ‘Maybe one day there’ll be a book about the WB and how interesting the beginning has been here, too.’”

In Season Finale, Daniels and co-author Cynthia Littleton look deep inside the turbulent twelve-year existences of both the WB and its archrival, same-time startup network UPN. “As I had gained more distance,” says Daniels, who left the network and its Michigan J. Frog mascot in 2001 and who until recently was the president of entertainment at cable network Lifetime, “I realized that the story was not just about the WB, but a tale of two new networks whose separate fortunes alternately rose and fell as they engaged in a brutal fight for fifth place.”

The mid-90s were a unique era where, encouraged by Washington’s relaxation of its regulations governing network ownership and not yet enamored with the internet, two media giants battled to become the next big thing in broadcast television. It was a period that Littleton already knew well, having pounded the fifth-network beat during her years as a reporter and editor at industry newspapers Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. “I was destined to write this book,” Littleton says, recalling how she and Daniels had for two years tossed around the idea of chronicling the confluence of factors which they felt made the days of 7th Heaven and Buffy the Vampire Slayer so fascinating. Then, on the morning of January 24, 2006, the WB and UPN networks unexpectedly announced their merger into the CW, the fifth network of today. “Susanne called me that morning,” Littleton remembers, “and said, ‘Now we have to do this.’”

Their separate perspectives combined, the two women agree, provide a clearer look at the ‘90s media rollercoaster than either had ever had on her own. “Susanne lived it and lived to tell about it so eloquently, candidly – and cathartically,” Littleton explains. “And it was a fascinating process for me as a journalist, to go back and revisit things I’d covered as they were happening, and finding out how much I’d gotten right and how much I’d missed.”

An additional 70 interviewees supplement the Season Finale mix -- each, as Daniels notes, more than eager to share his or her own side of the saga. “A lot of people were rooting for this book,” she explains. “Especially on the WB side. For a company that had hit such heights in prime time, the way it ended was a little frustrating. They wanted to have the experience documented.” And document Finale does – every one of the double-crossing deals and last-minute corporate buyouts that radically altered Daniels’ and her UPN counterparts’ jobs by refocusing their target demographics and undermining their budgets virtually overnight.

In focusing as it does on the executive end of the networks’ story, Finale is far from a gossipy confessional. It’s not about the real-life love triangle among the cast of Dawson’s Creek, or which two Charmed actresses didn’t get along – okay, actually that stuff is in there, but it’s not the point. Like legendary former NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff before her, whose memoir The Last Great Ride chronicled that network’s heady days of the 1980s, Daniels provides her much more current experience as a primer for the aspiring exec -- or for any TV junkie who wants to understand the machinations that are really going on behind the small screen. “There are always politics,” Daniels explains, “and a minimum of thirty other factors that affect executives’ decisions.”

The quality of the programming is important, Season Finale stresses. “But,” as the WB and UPN networks’ short life spans proved, Daniels admits wistfully, “it’s not everything.”

No comments:

Post a Comment