The Best Books On Television History

The Books I Picked & Why

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By David E. Fisher, Marshall Jon Fisher

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Why this book?

Most of those curious about the history of television have heard of the boy who invented it: Philo Farnsworth. He was just 14 years old when he conceived the idea that led to the first televised image less than a decade later. Farnsworth died penniless and unwell despite a life spent devoted to what became one of the most influential inventions of his lifetime and ours. That journey is a large part of the story the Tube authors unfold, but there are several additional key players who factor into the medium’s early years, and that, along with what will feel like some prescient thoughts about the current state of the television industry, make for an insightful, delightful read in this 1996 tome.


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Horizontal Hold: The Making and Breaking of a Network Television Pilot

By Daniel Paisner

Horizontal Hold: The Making and Breaking of a Network Television Pilot

Why this book?

Remember E.O.B., the drama about political speechwriters starring Mary Beth Hurt? Or the speechwriter series called Word of Mouth and starring Gladys Knight? Or the other one, The War Room, starring Brad Hall? Actually, no one saw any of them, because they were all versions of the same failed TV pilot, from St. Elsewhere producers Bruce Paltrow and Tom Fontana. And the story of the series’ saga to not making it to primetime covers more than a year, and highlights all the network, casting, technical, and general TV industry drama that can impact the TV pilot process, a process the networks still use to fill their schedules every year.


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Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television

By Donald Bogle

Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television

Why this book?

Film historian and professor Bogle does a deep dive on the history of Black characters and series on television, from the early days of the medium and stereotyped portrayals on series like Amos ‘n’ Andy through groundbreaking ‘70s shows like Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons, ‘80s juggernaut The Cosby Show, and the sitcoms of UPN and The WB in the mid-1990s. Bogle shares his opinions throughout the compelling chronicle, and does not suffer foolish performances or material gladly, making this a must read for any TV fan seeking a truly comprehensive account of TV history.


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No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

By Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

Why this book?

Netflix began in earnest the more recent and continuing evolution of the TV industry, and in this book Netflix co-founder and current co-CEO Hastings shares how the company went from losing $57 million in one year to producing Oscar-winning films, as well as the unique philosophies that have led to hundreds of millions of subscribers. Who would have predicted when we first started receiving those little red envelopes of DVDs in the mail that we’d soon be watching TV without actual TVs? We can only wonder what they’ll think of next.   


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1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die

By Paul Condon

1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die

Why this book?

The most important aspect of television history is, of course, the shows. And though there have been hundreds, at least, more series that will need to be added to the book since it was published in 2015, it is a gorgeously designed collection of viewing suggestions. And like any great guidebook, it’s also just a fun way for any TV fan to revisit the best series of the past, arranged by decades, and including American and international programming.


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