The Time Louis C.K. ‘Sucker Punched’ David Bianculli

While few would dispute that we live in the golden age of television, one could also make the case that we live in the golden age of books about television. To wit: Alan Sepinwall alone has The Revolution Was Televised: How The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Lost, and Other Groundbreaking Dramas Changed TV Forever and half of (along with Matt Zoller Seitz), TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time.

Also worthwhile is Brett Martin’s Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

There’s a clever new entry into the golden TV age canon as of Nov. 15, with David Bianculli’s The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific. (One could also make the case that we’re in the golden age of really loooooong titles of books about TV.) While Bianculli details the series that led up to our current gilded age, broken down by genre (Hill Street Blues in the crime category, St. Elsewhere in the medical sector, Fawlty Towers among “workplace sitcoms”), the book focuses on the current era, which Bianculli starts in 1999, as The West Wing and The Sopranos premiered.  

Bianculli is a guest host and critic on NPR’s Fresh Air With Terry Gross and was a longtime TV critic at the New York Daily News. (He also wrote for B&C for a spell.) When I think of David Bianculli, I think of the 2008 NAB Show, when he was set to do a Q&A with the actor Tim Robbins and instead compelled Robbins to read a provocative speech about the media that the Hollywood star had written.

In his book, Bianculli ends up unwittingly provoking Louis C.K. The Platinum Age of Television features several one-on-ones with those who individually helped bring on the golden—ok, platinum—age, including Tom Smothers, Amy Schumer, David E. Kelley and Steven Bochco. When he meets with C.K., the comedian shows Bianculli an email C.K. had written, furious about the critic’s brutal review of the short-lived HBO comedy Lucky Louie. C.K. never sent the email but instead used it as motivation to never settle for a show that wasn’t precisely what he wanted it to be.

That resulted in FX’s offbeat, but often brilliant, Louie.

“Louis C.K. sucker punched me halfway through [the interview],” says Bianculli, speaking metaphorically, of course. “But in a really good way.”

Bianculli unearths the negotiation between FX chief John Landgraf and Louis C.K. over Louie; C.K. opted for a smaller budget because it meant the network would not give notes on Louie. They shook on it, and Landgraf wired the first-season estimated costs, $5 million, to C.K.’s production company.  

As a critic, Bianculli says he can watch as much as 12 hours a day to keep up with all the television being made. He refers to a “triage” approach to consuming shows. “There are the things I have to deal with, the things I want to deal with, and everything else,” he says. “There is too much to process.”

The Platinum Age of Television showcases Bianculli’s prodigious knowledge of TV and is written in an easily consumed, conversational style. Like The Revolution Was Televised and TV (The Book), it can be turned to just about any chapter for an interesting excerpt as much as it can be read front to back.  

Bianculli notes the glut of compelling books about TV these days but suggests the burgeoning medium deserves the attention. “It’s clearly a time where TV is crying out to be taken more seriously,” he says.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.