As a TV fanatic, I have always loved learning as much about the medium as I could. I love to read nonfiction, especially behind-the-scenes books about show business.
With the holidays approaching, I wanted to share 9 of my favorite books about TV with all of you! They make fantastic gifts! I've included show-specific books as well as books that cover entire genres or just look at how TV as a whole has shaped and reflected our culture.
If you have any books about TV you love, please share them with me! I still have a lot of books about TV on my "To Read" list, and I'd love to add more to it.
TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz
Longtime TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz have created their Pantheon of television in TV (The Book). They rank the 100 best TV shows, in their opinions, using a scoring system. However, they acknowledge in the beginning that the list could change over the years. They invite people to disagree with their opinions and to use the book as a discussion starter about some of the best shows in history.
For almost every show, the duo writes an essay explaining why it deserves to be on the list, but they recognize that even their absolute favorites (The Simpsons and The Sopranos) have flaws. It's a great reference list for TV fans who want to watch as many classics as they possibly can.
Sitcom by Saul Austerlitz
The situational comedy has been a staple of American television since its inception. Sitcoms are comforting because they are familiar. Almost all of them follow a similar structure, but writers have become more daring with their comedies over the years. Writers continue to play with the sitcom's basic form and experiment with new ideas, but that comfort remains with each new show.
Saul Austerlitz's Sitcom examines the history of the comforting sitcom by looking at 24 individual episodes of sitcoms, including I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, and Community. The book can be a bit dense at times, but Austerlitz outlines how both the genre and the medium have grown over the years.
The War for Late Night by Bill Carter
This is Bill Carter's second book about late night television, and it is a genre he clearly knows well. The War for Late Night chronicles the 2010 feud between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien over NBC's Tonight Show. It is a fascinating look at the failures of the network during this tumultuous time in its history. Some say this is not as good as Carter's original book The Late Shift (which I have not yet read), but it is a must-read for television fans who originally followed this wild story in 2010.
Top of the Rock by Warren Littlefield and T.R. Pearson
NBC ruled television in the late 80s and 90s, and that is, in large part, thanks to Warren Littlefield. He helped develop the shows that defined that era of television, including Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Friends, ER, Will & Grace, and The West Wing. Top of the Rock is a look at his time at NBC, with anecdotes from some of the biggest stars of the network at the time.
Littlefield is critical of his successors at the network, which turned NBC into the lowest-rated network on television. He's not afraid to hold back in his critiques, making it a juicy read.
Difficult Men by Brett Martin
In 1999, The Sopranos premiered on HBO, changing the landscape of dramatic television. Difficult Men by Brett Martin is a behind-the-scenes look at shows that centerd around unlikable male protagonists: The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, The Wire, and more.
Martin uses his journalism background to discuss the difficulties of making these series in the cultural and historical context of the times. He also includes some tales that will probably make you wonder why anyone would want to work with some of these showrunners. Warning: there are significant plot spoilers throughout the book for all shows featured. However, if you are a fan of any of the shows listed above, it is a riveting peek at what many have declared as the newest Golden Age of Television.
Live from New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Saturday Night Live is one of the most important institutions on American television. It's been on the air for 43 seasons, and it's still going strong and winning awards. The argument can be made that SNL even helped Barack Obama win the 2008 presidential election.
Live from New York is an oral history book with the biggest stars and creatives in the show's history. It was originally published in 2002, but it was updated in 2015 to include the show's historic 40th season. It's also a look at modern American history, taking readers through multiple presidents and major events like 9/11 through the lens of a comedic variety show.
The Daily Show (The Book) by Chris Smith
The Daily Show (The Book) is similar to Live from New York in that it is an oral history book about a political satire show. This book, though, is obviously about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (and later, Trevor Noah). This book is a fascinating look at how The Daily Show grew from a little known show to a cultural phenomenon.
It features hilarious interviews with Jon Stewart and former correspondents like Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Jason Jones, Ed Helms, John Oliver, Jessica Williams, and Larry Wilmore. It's a fun journey through one of the most influential television shows of the 2000s.
Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Some huge Seinfeld fanatics have complained that this book is full of information they already knew. However, as a more casual fan of the show, I found this book fascinating! Did you know this popular show almost did not make it on the air or get renewed once it was airing?
Seinfeld has a fascinating origin story, and it became one of the most infuential and important shows in television history. Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is an easy-to-read book that explores how Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David took the most mundane aspects of life and turned it into a phenomenon.
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
This is the only celebrity memoir I included on the list, but there are some great memoirs out there by TV actors with lots of behind-the-scenes stories. Lauren Graham's memoir is framed around the time she spent playing Lorelai on Gilmore Girls. Graham does explore other topics in her essays: writing, working on Parenthood, her relationship with Peter Krause, and more.
The focus of Talking as Fast as I Can, though, is on the beloved Gilmore Girls. She includes a chapter where she watches every episode of Gilmore Girls for the first time and writes her thoughts on each season. She shares her joy over returning to the series and character she loved dearly, and she features snippets of her journal from the set of A Year in the Life. It's a quick and delightful read!