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Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  2,828 ratings  ·  327 reviews
Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, ER, Cheers, Law & Order, Will & Grace…Here is the funny, splashy, irresistible insiders’ account of the greatest era in television history -- told by the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the network executives who made it happen…and watched it all fall apart.

Warren Littlefield was the NBC President of Entertainment who oversaw the Peac
Hardcover, 325 pages
Published May 1st 2012 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
This oral history literary format interests me. The first book I remember reading in the “brief bits of interviews cut together to tell a story” format was Please Kill Me. Next came the west coast version of the same, We Got The Neutron Bomb. A while back I read The Replacements history, all interviews, if my memory serves me well, then earlier this spring the extensive ESPN history. Last week I read another oral history, this one from the “Must See TV” era.

Okay, first, background knowledge. If
Lee Goldberg
May 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Although I've spent a lot of years as TV writer/producer, I'm still a TV nut who buys just about any behind-the-scenes book written about an individual series or about a network or studio. So I was eager to read Top of The Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV, NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield's memoir of his days building the network's iconic 1990s Thursday night schedule, which included hits like Seinfeld, Frasier, and ER. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment.

Evan Leach
Nov 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
From 1982 through 2002 or so, NBC had a primetime lineup that was the envy of its rival networks. “Must See TV” produced hit after hit: Cheers, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Frasier, Law & Order, Friends, ER, and Will & Grace (which was less of a hit than its predecessors, but pushed the network TV envelope in significant ways).

img: Cheers

Top of the Rock tells the story of Must See TV from the perspective of Warren Littlefield. Littlefield was president of NBC for most of this era and oversaw the creation of
Jessica Jeffers
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An oral history of NBC's prime years in the mid-late 90s, told by various execs and creative folk. I'd give it three and a half stars, if I could. It's interesting for sure -- I am a huge television nerd with a mean nostalgic streak, so this is right up my alley. It read quickly and I definitely enjoyed it, though the oral history format doesn't offer any form of critical analysis to place the events in a larger framework. Something like that probably would have required an additional couple hun ...more
Patrick Book
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-reads
I don't know who this book is for. This pseudo-oral history is populated by too many suits and business types and few of the creative people Littlefield keeps saying are so important. It purports to explain the business side of the equation but glosses over details in favour of broad allusions to the importance of scheduling. The entire way along Littlefield praises himself and condemns execs like Don Ohlmeyer, never giving those he maligns a chance for rebuttals. Even worse is the album's closi ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this reflection on NBC in the 90s. Littlefield is a bit self-congratulatory and largely skips over things like his network’s basic refusal to put Black actors on their shows (while celebrating Will and Grace’s decision to eliminate their one network-mandated Black character). But I love that the book pulls no punches about what an asshole Don Ohlmeyer was, and it ends discussing in depth how shitty Jeff Zucker is. Worth reading for anyone interested in this era of television!
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was pretty funny because 95% of this book is just cool anecdotes abt how Friends, Seinfeld, ER, Will and Grace, and Frasier came to be (loved hearing Jennifer Anniston ask someone at a gas station if they "think it will ever happen for" her), and then the last 5% is just Warren Littlefield shitting on NBC's programming at the time the book was published and how they lost all this money after he was fired by Don whatshisface.
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Skeletal Reminiscence of NBC's Haughty Heyday ...

This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book.

It's hard to deny that NBC `s primetime shows dominated television from the late 1980s through the 1990s as diverse programs like "Seinfeld", "The Cosby Show", "Will and Grace", "Cheers", "Friends" and "ER" seemed to offer a little something to almost anyone in America. So lucrative was this wave of success, the network justifiably and arrogantly
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure about this. I only watched a few of the shows in the "Must See TV" era and most of those were from the early years. Still, this was an interesting read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the development and production of many of the shows, especially Cheers and Frasier, Mad About You, Friends, ER and Will and Grace.

As far as ER went, when they were getting ready to air the pilot, NBC advertised via a 60-second snippet on LA Law. The same was true for LA Law on Hill Street Blues -
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Published by Doubleday in 2012

If you remember the giant television shows of NBC's heyday in the 1980s and 1990s this book will be fascinating. Shows like Cheers, Cosby, Law & Order, ER, Will & Grace, Friends, Frazier, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Mad About You and Seinfeld ruled the airwaves. Thursday nights were dominated by NBC and NBC usually made more money on that night than the other six nights combined - literally billions of dollars.

Warren Littlefield was directly involved in the creation of t
Mark Schlatter
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: shreve, new_book_area
This is really two books in one. On the one hand, you have a fascinating oral history of the "Must See TV" era on NBC. It's a bit jumpy, and you don't get all the voices (only half the cast of Friends, no George Clooney talking about ER), but it's still chock full of insights on casting, development, and filming of the shows. One of those behind-the-scenes books that I pick up, can't put down, and incessantly tell my wife stories from. I would like to see a more in-depth work covering these show ...more
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
I like oral histories, but this was pretty disappointing because most of the commentators were NBC executives patting themselves on the back for how great they were at their job. Business types are fine in small doses, but they tend to be a little more restrained when they talk, more used to trying to guard their own back, so this book feels a lot more controlled and PC than say the Saturday Night Live oral history. For example, there wasn't any discussion of shows they tried that didn't work, w ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Pretty good quick read, if you're into the history of television and/or any of the shows that made up the Must See TV era of NBC. Even though I'd argue that television as a whole is better right now, I was surprised how nostalgic this book made me for that era, when it felt like everyone in America was watching the same shows as you, at the same time. There's some truth to that, too - as this book points out, even the #1 shows today only have about a third or less of the audience that shows like ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: tv
I love me a good tv anthology book. Give me a tomb about any time in TV history (in my lifetime) and I'll gobble it up. This one was about the height of Must-See-TV on NBC back in the 90's. Even though "technically" it was written by Warren Littlefield, it was definitely more like the SNL and Second City anthologies that came out a while back, but Warren probably wrote the most and it was about his time on the network, but there were loads of peoples opinions in it.

It was an okay read. Like some
Rob Jansing
There are certainly lots of fun tidbits throughout the book, but it read like a really long magazine article. Just a personal preference but I just didn't care for the style it was written in. It was like reading a transcript of a group interview, or a made for t.v. retrospective. There were times where Mr. Littlefield was a little full of himself, but considering what his story was and to see where he came from and where he ultimately made it to, I guess it's ok. Considering how many of the "pl ...more
Amy S
May 29, 2015 rated it liked it
I bought this book at the dollar store. Yep, the dollar store! Went there for teacher supplies and bam! Came out w a book as well.

Anyway, so if you know me well you know my son is a wee bit in the industry. He is in a minute maid commercial airing currently. So I am a bit familiar w audition processes and legalities and snobberies etc. I enjoyed this book for the sheer nerdiness of all the behind the scenes info. I find the casting process fascinating. The business of getting a show on the air,
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Mowed through this 'oral history' of MUST SEE TV .... And if you don't know what that is, this isn't the book for you. Backstories about casting and controversies sent me to you tube to see the original opening of 'Friends Like Us' when it had an REM theme song, and before it became just Friends..... While a lot of the stories were entertaining, the author (former NBC big wig Warren Littlefield) is patently confident in his contributions to NBC, which apparently went straight to heck when he was ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Easy reading for fans of shows like Seinfeld, Cheers, Friends, etc. I thought I might have overdosed on NBC insider info because I recently read "The War for Late Night," but no, my hunger for behind-the-scenes tv network books remains strong.
Martin Kilkenny
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
"by" Warren Littlefield is a really pushing it. It is mostly typed transcripts of interviews. The cast of "friends" really think they invented television. Never liked them in the past...really don't like them now.
Dec 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting behind the scenes look at many of my favorite shows.
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, audiobooks
Multiple chapters on the genius of Will & Grace.


Brenden Gallagher
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I generally don't love oral history or memoir, so I was a bit dubious when it came to combining the two. However, Warren Littlefield's "Top of the Rock" offers a fairly unique and invaluable perspective when it comes to showbusiness stories: the nuts and bolts view from the executive suite.

Littlefield ran NBC during the "Must See TV" era, which spanned the twilight of "Cheers" to the end of "Seinfeld." During that time, he shepherded shows like "ER," "Friends," "Will & Grace," and "Seinfeld" thr
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you are interested in how a TV show is financed and/or how it is scheduled for airing, this is the book for you. Personally, I prefer the creative side: how a TV show is nurtured from idea-germ to full-functioning product. There's some that in Top of the Rock, a memoir from Warren Littlefield as much as an oral history of NBC's Must See TV era, but the focus is primarily on the business side.

I grew up on many NBC shows. The West Wing, Friends, Frasier, ER, Will & Grace. I choose to rewatch t
Jun 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I have read Live From New York (an oral history of SNL) and enjoyed it. I thought I would like this because it’s a similar topic and also an oral history. (Also, I was going to drive 6 hours over a weekend and needed an available audiobook).

I liked this less than Live from New York. Where that book is all about one show, this book is about many shows: Seinfeld, Will & Grace, Cheers, Frasier, ER, Friends, and more. And so this book is much briefer on those shows. And man
Sharon Falduto
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
This was interesting, and had a lot of anecdotes from tv directors and actors. It was written in a choppy style where they just had quotes from everyone--kind of like a play--instead of a narrative, which was a little irritating, but I got used to it.

A whole bunch of "you could NEVER get away with this at networks now! Back then we had freedom! It was so much better!" Really, in Warren Littlefield's eyes, he created Everything That Mattered To TV Ever (Friends, E/R. Seinfeld...) and then Jeff Zu
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
As I think I've mentioned before, the "Oral History" storytelling model is something that I am a sucker for.

If you're around my age (ahem, 38) and remember the Must See TV line ups in the mid-90s (Friends, Seinfeld, ER), you remember how it really was appointment television. The shows were excellent and the stories behind the scenes of those shows (and other shows like Frasier, Mad About You and Will & Grace) are really enjoyable and QUICK to read.

The book has a point of view, Warren Littlefield
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love behind-the-scenes stuff, and this book was chock-full of juicy anecdotes about some of my favorite (now-classic) shows. It was interesting to read about NBC’s philosophies for cranking out hits, which is kind of similar to Netflix’s today - invest in talent and let them do their thing. And then of course, to see Must See TV felled by cable, and now cable being threatened by streaming ... the constantly shifting TV landscape is so fascinating to me.

This is a great deep dive into how the M
Connie Curtis
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm not a big television fan. I haven't seen most of the shows mentioned in this book - "Will and Grace", "ER", "Frasier", "Mad About You", "Law and Order", "West Wing" and more. I have, however, seen most episodes of "Friends" and "L. A. Law" and all episodes of "Seinfeld".

It was an interesting look into the world of television executives, with quotes from many stars of the above-mentioned shows. If you are into those shows and want to know a little more about the goings on behind the scenes,
Alexis Clemons
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, not only because I love most of the shows from this era, but because I love oral histories about TV/movie production and that's what this was! I found most of the interviews/stories very interesting, even if much of it wasn't surprising or new. There was definitely a slight bias to it and they do bash a few people, but overall it had a lot of perspectives. They also rag on the Apprentice in the final chapter, and that was a nice bonus for me.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I ended up hating the "intercut interview" format less than I thought I would. I grew up during Must See TV so this was a fun walk down memory lane. Interesting to get a look at how TV was made, what different people's priorities were. It is shocking to think how much broadcast media has changed since then and even since the book was written.

Recommend if you have a deep interest in the history of TV or want a nostalgia trip for the Gen Xers in the crowd.
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