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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 (Penguin Press)
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 and then basic cable networks like FX and AMC,
dramatically stretched television's narrative inventiveness, emotional
resonance, and artistic ambition. No longer necessarily concerned with
creating always-likable characters, plots that wrapped up neatly every
episode, or subjects 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 and sexuality, addiction, race,
violence, and existential boredom. Just as the Big Novel 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 and
betrayals of the American Dream at the beginning of the twenty-first
This revolution happened at the hands of a new breed of
auteur: the all-powerful writer-show runner. These were men nearly as
complicated, idiosyncratic, and "difficult" as the conflicted
protagonists that defined the genre. Given the chance to make art in a
maligned medium, they fell upon the opportunity with unchecked ambition.
Combining deep reportage with cultural analysis and historical context, Brett Martin recounts the rise and inner workings of a genre that represents not only a new golden age for TV but also a cultural watershed. Difficult Men features extensive interviews with all the major players, including David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire), Matthew Weiner and Jon Hamm (Mad Men), David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood), and Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), in addition to dozens of other writers, directors, studio executives, actors, production assistants, makeup artists, script supervisors, and so on. Martin takes us behind the scenes of our favorite shows, delivering never-before-heard story after story and revealing how cable TV has distinguished itself dramatically from the networks, emerging from the shadow of film to become a truly significant and influential part of our culture.
Praise for Difficult Men:
"The new golden age of television drama--addictive, dark, suspenseful,
complex, morally murky--finally gets the insanely readable chronicle it
deserves in Brett Martin's Difficult Men . . . Here, at
last, is the real story, and it's a lot more exciting than the version
that gets told in Emmy acceptance speeches."
--Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
"This book taught me a
thing or two about how a few weird executives enabled a handful of
weirder writers to make shows I still can't believe were on TV. But what
I found more interesting--and disturbing--is how it helped me
understand why an otherwise lily-livered, civic-minded nice girl like me
wants to curl up with a bunch of commandment-breaking,
Constitution-trampling psychos--and that's just the cops."
addict of the new 'golden' television (or extended narratives on premium
cable) will love this book. Along the way, it is also one of the
smartest books about American television ever written. So don't be
surprised if that great creator, David Chase (of (The Sopranos), comes
out as a mix of Rodney Dangerfield and Hamlet."
Brett Martin has been reporting and writing non-fiction for more than fifteen years. He’s contributed to Vanity Fair, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Food and Wine, Details, Men’s Journal and O: The Oprah Magazine, and is a frequent contributor to This American Life. He is currently a Contributor to GQ.
Photo by Pableaux Johnson