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

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.

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.

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About the Author-
  • 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 and the author of The Sopranos: The Book.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 13, 2013
    Martin (The Sopranos: The Book) names the period spanning 1999 to 2013 “the third golden age of television,” after those of the 1950s and the 1980s, and shows how it was made possible by a unique moment in entertainment history. The 1980s saw premium cable services with their shorter seasons and the advent of the VCR. The new landscape encouraged developing original programming to help fill 168 hours a week and taking chances with serialized narrative, as opposed to the syndication-friendly stand-alone episodes common in broadcast television. A little later, shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Mad Men subverted network formulas to present flawed, even nihilistic antiheros wrestling with inner demons. Over the course of a dozen episodes a season, each show explored such dark themes as addiction, psychotherapy, and failure, and this boundary pushing made them as revolutionary as the very idea of “good television.” Martin’s book recognizes the small-screen auteurs that made it all possible—including Grant Tinker, a television executive whose high regard for writers made the most creative ones flock to him; Steve Bochco, who established the role of autonomous writer/show runner; and frustrated screenwriter David Chase, a TV scribe with a scathing disregard for the medium. Martin deftly traces TV’s evolution from an elitist technology in a handful of homes, to an entertainment wasteland reflecting viewers’ anomie, to “the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century.”

  • Mark Adams, New York Times bestselling author of Turn Left at Machu Picchu "Brett Martin has accomplished something extraordinary: he has corralled a disparate group of flawed creative geniuses, extracted their tales of struggle and triumph, and melded those stories into a seamless narrative that reads like a nonfiction novel. With characters as rich as these, you can't help but reach the obvious conclusion—Difficult Men would itself make one heck of a TV series."
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Difficult Men
Difficult Men
Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad
Brett Martin
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