We know, we know, the options for great television are endless. But there are only so many streaming services to subscribe to or boxed DVD sets you can buy. So why not give your TV-loving loved one a book about TV this holiday season? Here are a few suggestions, chosen from books published since last Christmukkah.
Who would like it: Anyone who is burning with rage over the continued revelations of abuses in power in Hollywood even though it’s been six years since Harvey Weinstein and we all said #MeToo
Why? Ryan has been writing about TV and the entertainment industry for more than 30 years (she’s currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair). She’s a meticulous reporter who interviewed 150 people for this book, and she not only documents the abuses that make us want to burn the entertainment world down but also the people who are trying to save it. In the process, she’s produced a passionate critique of something she knows and loves (and that we all know and love).
Pandora's Box: How Guts, Guile, and Greed Upended TV by Peter Biskind
Who would like it: Devoted followers of prestige television
Why? After covering the 1960s revolution of film in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, critic Biskind turns his attention to the revolution in TV that started with The Sopranos and the rise of HBO, continued with the appearance of great original shows on basic cable networks like AMC and FX and on streaming services, and is now, apparently, coming to a sad end. Biskind’s nowhere near as conscientious as Ryan and this isn’t the definitive telling of the streaming “revolution,” but it’s still an eye opener.
Who would like it: The person with very strong feelings about Fox News
Why? Stelter, a longtime media reporter, investigates the role Fox News played in Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, going deep into the pile of evidence the network submitted in the Dominion voting system trial, including private emails and texts between Rupert Murdoch and his minions, especially Tucker Carlson, the network’s most recognizable host until he was unexpectedly fired in April. Stelter conclusively shows how the Fox News team lied about nearly everything. This book reads like a novel; unfortunately, it’s all true.
Who would like it: The reader who wants to learn more about the history of Black representation on TV besides (ugh) Bill Cosby
Why? The title of this handsome, photo-heavy book is a misnomer: Washington Post journalist Butler actually begins her story with Julia, the 1968 sitcom that starred Diahann Carroll as Julia Baker, a nurse and single mother, and was the first TV show with a Black female lead character who wasn’t a maid. Julia Baker, Butler points out, was also a pseudonym used by Olivia Pope on Scandal, and her book traces a throughline between these two shows that, she argues, each ushered in a golden age of Black TV.
Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History by Alan Sepinwall, Josh Schwartz, and Stephanie Savage OR Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson's Creek: How Seven Teen Shows Transformed Television by Thea Glassman
Who would like it: Fans of turn-of-the-millennium teen TV whose memories of Capeside High and the year the Dillon Panthers won state are more vivid — and cherished — than anything they actually experienced themselves
Why? Glassman’s book is for the generalist, while Sepinwall’s is for fans who have a special love for the saga of the poor kid from Chino who finds a family in Newport Beach. Freaks goes behind the scenes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, My So-Called Life, Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, The O.C., Friday Night Lights, and Glee, with new interviews with the writers, directors, and stars that reveal origin stories, on-set shenanigans, trivia, and, in the case of MSCL and F&G, the reasons for their untimely cancellations. Rolling Stone critic Sepinwall does much the same in Welcome to the O.C. except in much greater detail in remarkably candid interviews with the creators, the cast, the crew, and even the Television Without Pity recappers who may have inadvertently caused the tragic death of Marissa Cooper.
Being Henry: The Fonz and Beyond by Henry Winkler
Who would like it: Anyone who loves Henry Winkler (Who doesn’t love Henry Winkler?)
Why? Before he assumed the leather jacket and commanding persona of Arthur Fonzarelli in a near-mystical experience in the Happy Days casting office, Winkler was a lonely, needy Upper West Side kid with abusive parents and undiagnosed dyslexia that tormented him through his entire school career. This is something he’s never forgotten, and it’s inspired a truly endearing celebrity memoir.
Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever by Matt Singer
Who would like it: Movie lovers and anyone who has fond memories of Siskel & Ebert
Why? Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, movie critics for the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, respectively, were unlikely TV stars. Siskel was skinny and bald, Ebert was rotund and hirsute, and their relationship was contentious. (Or, as Ebert might say, they hated, hated, hated each other.) But, with the help of a young producer named Thea Flaum, their bickering — even over movies they both liked — and their judgmental thumbs turned film criticism into a spectator sport. Singer’s book tells the story of their epic partnership, which lasted until Siskel’s death in 1999.
Behind the Screens: Illustrated Floor Plans and Scenes From the Best TV Shows of All Time by Iñaki Aliste Lizarralde and Neal E. Fischer
Who would like it: Architecture and interior design fanatics
Why? One day, just for fun, Lizarralde, an interior designer in Spain, made a floorplan of Elliott Bay Towers Apartment 1901 from Frasier and posted it on his Instagram account. One thing led to another, and now there’s this book, with floorplans and even a few town maps from 35 American, British, and Canadian TV shows, from classics like I Love Lucy to contemporary shows like Schitt’s Creek. Writer and podcast host Fischer contributes commentary and bits of trivia.
The Costumes of Downton Abbey by Emma Marriott and Dressing the Part: Television's Most Stylish Shows by Hal Rubenstein
Who would like it: The person who only watches TV for the clothes
Why? Even as Downton Abbey grew more ridiculous with each passing season, it remained gorgeous to look at. In her lavish new book, Marriott talks with the show’s designers and costumers about where they got those clothes. (Pro tip: unless you’re skinny with no boobs, 1930s bias-cut dresses are far more flattering flapper-wear.) Rubenstein’s book is less heavy on the photos — and also the gushing — but far more comprehensive, covering fashion on TV from Mary Tyler Moore’s capri pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show to the modernized Regency gowns of Bridgerton, and showing how it influenced how people dressed in the real world.
Aimee Levitt is a writer and editor based in Chicago.
TOPICS: TV Books, CNN, Freaks and Geeks, The O.C., Brian Stelter, Behind the Screens: Illustrated Floor Plans and Scenes From the Best TV Shows of All Time, Being Henry: The Fonz and Beyond, Black TV: Five Decades of Groundbreaking Television from Soul Train to Black-ish and Beyond, Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, The Costumes of Downton Abbey, Dressing the Part: Television's Most Stylish Shows, Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson's Creek: How Seven Teen Shows Transformed Television, Network of Lies: The Epic Saga of Fox News, Donald Trump, and the Battle for American Democracy, Pandora's Box: How Guts, Guile, and Greed Upended TV, Teen Dramas, Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History