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Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,996 ratings  ·  369 reviews
A riveting and revealing look at the shows that helped cable television drama emerge as the signature art form of the twenty-first century.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape of television began an unprecedented transformation. While the networks continued to chase the lowest common denominator, a wave of new shows, first on premium cable channels like HBO an
Hardcover, 303 pages
Published July 3rd 2013 by Penguin Press
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Start your review of Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Damn, could that sub-title be any longer?

This is the second book published recently that takes a look at the wave of shows that changed television since the turn of the century, but there’s a couple of key differences from Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised. Sepinwall gave a wider overview about the shows and their cultural impact while Brett Martin’s focus is more on the men considered the new auteurs of TV drama who were both the main creative forces and showrunners of their project
James Thane
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As the subtitle of this book suggests, Brett Martin sets out to describe the story of a creative revolution in television that began in the late 1990s and early 2000s and produced what Martin describes as the third Golden Age of television.

This revolution occurred principally on cable and was led by the amazing success of "The Sopranos" on HBO. In the wake of that success came shows like "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "The Shield," "Six Feet Under," and others. These shows we
Phil Simon
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-culture
Difficult Men is well written and researched and I did enjoy it. While reading it, though, something began gnawing at me roughly 50 pages in. Difficult Men feels like two separate books fused into one, and the result is ultimately unsatisfying.

I'd wager that nearly 70 percent of the book is about The Sopranos, clearly the show that spawned what Martin calls "the creative revolution." No argument here. Matthew Weiner of Mad Men has a Sopranos' lineage. And Vince Gilligan has said that there would
This, to me, was a profoundly annoying book. It must be said that Martin indeed writes a compelling story of the so-called Third Golden Age of Television, full of anecdotes, fascinating tidbits of information and gasp-worthy moments. At the same time, however, his account of "how television became great again" is full of gaping holes and profoundly biased, based on an unexamined assumption of what constitutes good television. Sure, he starts off with disclaimers - he is interested only in 1) cab ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Difficult Men was a highly entertaining chronicle of the men who created, starred in, and were portrayed in the past decade of quality drama series. Showrunners, once unknown scribes, took on the role of "auteur" stamping each series with their own personal mark and agenda, and creating universes that showcase their preoccupations through flawed complicated characters. Reading this book as I watch Anthony Weiner, someone I know both personally and professionally, caught for the business of his a ...more
Scott Wilson
Jul 13, 2013 rated it liked it
The big draw is Martin's access. He gets a lot of people to say a lot of things, some of which are jaw-dropping in their hubris. But even those quotes after a while blur together in a way that too conveniently supports Martin's "Third Golden Age of TV" thesis (a case he sometimes attempts to bolster by applying his own limited critical observations about the quality of this or that show, at jarringly arbitrary moments).

His thesis is demonstrably true given the shows under discussion here, yet th
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
This is a book about the TV revolution of the late 1990s/ early 2000s; but it is also about how much one can get away with when they are a male creator of a successful show.

Now, the "difficult men" concept / conceit does not work equally well with all creators and creations under discussion. Sure, all of the shows described in this book were created by men (Martin believes that prestige drama is a male male male genre) and they are mainly about antiheroes; but Martin stretches his "difficult me
Aug 29, 2013 rated it liked it
DIFFICULT MEN is one of two books about the prestige cable revolution in the past year (along with Alan Sepinwall's THE REVOLUTION IS TELEVISED). Martin is a reporter as opposed to a TV critic, and as a result his account focuses primarily on a behind the scenes account of the making of the standard TV drama canon (The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, Breaking Bad).

Martin's behind-the-scenes account is well reported and very interesting. It includes lots of information that isn
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am a huge fan of The Sopranos and Mad Men so naturally I was happy to see another book that covers both shows (I had recently read The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever). This book covers The Sopranos in more detail since Brett Martin wrote a companion book for the series and had interviewed David Chase quite a bit. The Sopranos was the start of a new type of TV drama with anti-hero's like Tony Soprano and later Don Draper, and the me ...more
Stephen Henderson
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: filmmaking, 2017
I enjoyed this book, it was cool to see the back-stories of HBO, Mad Men & The Wire, etc. Like others have pointed out, 60% percent of it was about the Sopranos, it seemed like the Brett Martin actually wanted to write a book about the Sopranos, and although Walter White is on the cover, Breaking Bad was only briefly covered at the very end.

The writer also frequently used an 'over-the-top' tone & language that gets old fast:
"In some circles, to not have seen The Wire became a shocking breech of
I'm a Sopranos and Breaking Bad fan. Interesting account of what it took for James Gandolfini to make his Tony Soprano character work. ...more
Mal Warwick
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Visit the writers’ rooms at The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men

Chances are, if you have any tolerance at all for television, you’ve watched at least one of the signature dramatic shows that have cropped up on cable during the past decade. I certainly have. I’m a sucker for this stuff, and I didn’t fully understand why until I read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, a superbly constructed tribute to these programs and their creators.

Martin argues that The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Bre
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was good and made me feel good. It is very similar to The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall, which I read a couple of months ago: both feature basically the same set of dramas, and have the same basic point about how good TV has been lately. The difference is that while Sepinwall's book is more about the shows themselves, tracing the changing dynamic of TV drama since Oz, Martin's focuses more on the individual show-runners: the creators and writers (and sometimes actors) who ...more
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Without trying to be too dense with detail about the shows themselves (there are companion books for that), this book does a great job of summarising the key stories of the key shows in the '3rd Golden Era of TV', where a season was more 12 chapters of a dense novel than 24 chunks of filler between the ads.

As someone who has derived tremendous pleasure from the four key shows explored, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it was a pleasure to read the stories behind them. Martin has
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
There's a great book to be written about what the rise of antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White says about contemporary masculinity. This book isn't that, doesn't try to be that, and doesn't even claim to be that, but that's kind of what I wanted, so I came away a little disappointed. But that's on me.

More objectively, the book tries so hard to back up its title that the result is a little lumpy. There's lots and lots about The Sopranos and The Wire, partly because they were groundbreaki
David Carraturo
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think this was a great read, long winded at times, so that is why only 4 stars. However, the author provides great insight to the showrunner process, the pre production angst/pitfalls and also as the production is underway, the stress and creativeness of a successful show on the air. HBO, TNT, AMC...the changing of the guard is now at Showtime with Billions and Ray Donovan. Fascinating world. If you are a writer or thinking about a dip into Hollywood, a must read.
so, I went to college with brett martin and was friends with him, although we are not in touch these days. (everytime I write a review of a book that says (Goodreads Author) next to the title I worry that that means the author just trolls goodreads looking for reviews of their book. because I'm not always nice. but brett, if you're reading this, hi!

but anyway, let's pretend brett's not reading this so it can be unrestrained, just like I pretend nobody reads my journal. well, hopefully no one do
In the Third Golden Age of television (as Brett Martin calls it) things have changed drastically. With the rise of cable television, channels like HBO, Showtime and so on, are able to push the boundaries not afforded to network TV. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men allowed the writers to offer something more complex or unpredictable. This saw the rise of the difficult men, characters like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Don Draper (Mad Men) offered a char ...more
Jaq Greenspon
Many years ago, when Christopher Judge and I had a production company together, we met with executives at Marvel about doing a TV show. Now, this is back when Marvel was a non-starter, way before the MCU as it is today, and the executive we talked to was incredibly dismissive of the idea of writers actually writing about characters. As I recall, the conversation was about possibly doing a Ghost Rider series and the comment was something like “we can’t afford more than one transformation during a ...more
Dana King
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Difficult Men is Brett Martin’s brilliant and entertaining look behind the key shows of what he calls the Third Golden Age of television, a period spearheaded by HBO with the prison drama Oz laying the foundation from which The Sopranos would become a phenomenon.

The title has double meaning. The programs that make up the core of Martin’s third golden age focus largely on the lives of forty-ish men in crisis: Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Walter White, Don Draper, and several cops, politicians, and
Jul 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Difficult Men chronicles the rise of the all-powerful showrunners of such iconic television shows as The Sopranos, the Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and other television shows of that era. Martin is able to make the byzantine landscape of television production intelligible to laymen. He presents a comprehensive and comprehensible history of the events and personalities that created the perfect conditions to allow for, as he calls it (somewhat reluctantly), The Third Golden Age of Televi ...more
Apr 10, 2014 rated it liked it
This third golden age of television has been great. An incredible time we will one day wax lyrical about to our grandchildren, where quality American TV show has followed quality American TV show (okay, CSI still exists, but you can’t have everything). This week my lovely fiancée and I have watched ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘True Detective’ and are gearing up for the new season of ‘Mad Men’ (that may give a terrible impression of couch potato tendencies, but rest assured that we have been going out as ...more
A. R.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Given that this book covers most of my favorite shows from the last 15 years, I was coming into this realizing I would likely be disappointed. It was actually a pretty good read. The organization and overall theme could have used some work. It very much reads like a collection of features on each show and then the author tried to jam some sort of connection between them on top of it.

Martin does a good job with the background on the cable drama revolution, especially how it started at HBO and bra
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I realized about 100 pages in that, despite loving The Sopranos and The Wire, I only really picked up this book to read about Breaking Bad. I simply could not bring myself to care about the writing and production aspects of The Shield, for example. In the end though, I'm not sure why this book exists. It isn't long enough to really get very in-depth with any of the shows it talks about, and seeing what various writers did before they had their hit shows is about as entertaining as (and, in fact, ...more
Alex O'Brien
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
If you're a fan of the third golden age of television and love The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, The Shield, and Breaking Bad, Brett Martin's 'Difficult Men' is a must-read. Martin reveals how these shows were developed and produced and probes the minds and creative processes of their brilliant and often difficult show-runners. I especially enjoyed how he described the workings of the writers' rooms. I spent the 2000s cheerfully carting my kids to sporting events and only caught up with these sho ...more
Riley Hamilton
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Behind the scenes on all of the best tv shows of all time.
Difficult Men is a history of a trend in turn-of-the-century broadcasting that saw serious dramas with troubled characters appear from a haze of episodic shows in which nothing serious ever really happened. The stars of the show are David Chase and David Simon, the first an innovative if edgy showrunner who initiated a revolution with The Sopranos, and the latter a journalist whose work took him to television, creating The Wire. Vince Gilligan also appears in the last section of book, with his e ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
Decent book on peak TV (which he calls Television's Third Golden Age 🙄), specifically how the protagonists & creators were all a bunch of fucked up anti heroes, and coincidentally, white male baby boomers. Actually, Vince Gilligan seems like a decent guy. It drives home why I got so bored with these shows, they were all so similar. "I'm a successful white man who treats everyone around me like garbage, why o why am I so unhappy? Boo hoo." But, really, I only bought this book for the chapter on M ...more
Adrien Lelièvre
Great book. I would have liked to see some artists portraits in it. Very good read.
This is a "behind the scenes" look at what the author calls the Third Golden Age of Television, that is the cable and antihero dominated run of shows that began with The Sopranos. Martin focuses on seven of these shows: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad (all of which I've watched except The Shield). The book comes with a spoiler warning but it's actually not too bad -- you might learn a couple of major plot points here and there. The ending o ...more
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Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - Difficult Men by Brett Martin 1 10 Nov 30, 2013 01:09PM  

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Brett Martin is a Correspondent for GQ and a 2012 James Beard Journalism Award winner. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Food and Wine, and multiple anthologies. He is a frequent contributor to This American Life. He is the author of The Sopranos: The Book (2007) and Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, Fr ...more

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