A riveting and revealing look at the shows thathelped cable television drama emerge as the signature art form of thetwenty-first century
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape oftelevision began an unprecedented transformation. While the networks continuedto chase the lowest common denominator, a wave of new shows, first on premiumcable channels like HBO and then basic cable networks like FX and AMC,dramatically stretched television's narrative inventiveness, emotionalresonance, and artistic ambition. No longer necessarily concerned with creatingalways-likable characters, plots that wrapped up neatly every episode, orsubjects that were deemed safe and appropriate, shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, and more tackled issues of life and death, love andsexuality, addiction, race, violence, and existential boredom. Just as the bignovel had in the 1960s and the subversive films of New Hollywood had in 1970s,television shows became the place to go to see stories of the triumph andbetrayals of the American Dream at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Thisrevolution happened at the hands of a new breed of auteur: the all-powerfulwriter-showrunner. These were men nearly as complicated, idiosyncratic, and"difficult" as the conflicted protagonists that defined the genre. Given thechance to make art in a maligned medium, they fell upon the opportunity withunchecked ambition.
Combining deep reportage with cultural analysis andhistorical context, Brett Martin recounts the rise and inner workings of agenre that represents not only a new golden age for television but also acultural watershed. Difficult Menfeatures extensive interviews with all the major players, including David Chase(The Sopranos), David Simon and EdBurns (The Wire), Matthew Weiner andJon Hamm (Mad Men), David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood), and Alan Ball (SixFeet Under), in addition to dozens of other writers, directors, studioexecutives, actors, production assistants, makeup artists, script supervisors,and so on. Martin takes us behind the scenes of our favorite shows, deliveringnever-before-heard story after story and revealing how cable television hasdistinguished itself dramatically from the networks, emerging from the shadowof film to become a truly significant and influential part of our culture.