Brandon Tartikoff’s Last Great Ride

Brandon Tartikoff was NBC’s entertainment president from 1980 to 1991. This is a book review of his memoir The Last Great Ride, which was published in 1992.

During the 1980 and early 1990s, NBC was “Must See TV”.  It was also a time, as Brandon Tartikoff points out in his memoir, where a “27 share was the dividing line between renewal and cancellation.” Nowadays, the highest rated show on television, American Idol, does not even get close to a 27 share. American Idol only gets a 14 share due to the increasing number of niche audience, the fact that most homes have more than one television, and everyone can watch almost anything whenever and wherever they want. Brandon Tartikoff knew this in 1992, which was the year his book The Last Great Ride was published and VCRs were the only commonly found television-recording devices.

Brandon Tartikoff was the youngest president of NBC’s entertainment division. He was responsible for shaping NBC’s primetime lineup in the 1980s, which consisted of The A-Team, The Cosby Show, Miami Vice, Cheers, The Golden Girls and of course many other shows. In The Last Great Ride, Tartikoff recounts his and NBC’s meteoric rise to the top, shares how fighting cancer shaped his view on life, and provides the reader with amusing anecdotes about the shows that made it, those that did not, and those that probably should have been kept off the air.

If you are looking for a tell-all book about the television industry, The Last Great Ride is not the book. The most revealing thing the book says is that people come up with terrible ideas, Marlon Brando liked to hang out with hot naked women in Tahiti, and that Frank Zappa and his kids pitched an odd show to Tartikoff at his windmill-shaped house. Is that interesting? When told well, yes, but it is not exactly shocking stuff.

The Last Great Ride, which was published in the early-1990s, serves as a time capsule of television. Tartikoff’s book predates Friends, which might surprise readers in their twenties who do not remember a world without the show and its reruns. Most of the shows Tartikoff mentions as new or currently on the air have been in reruns for years and do not seem out of place on Nick at Nite or TV Land, so the book is obviously not recent. However, The Last Great Ride does provide some interesting information on the shows it does cover.

Tartikoff’s book is an easy and amusing read. Professional comedians, except Tina Fey, do not usually write books as funny as his memoir. This maybe because television obsessives find nothing funnier than ridiculous show ideas and the peculiarities of the television business, most of which you cannot make up and demonstrates how the movie Network can sometimes seem all too real. For example, Tartikoff recounts a time when then-president of NBC Fred Silverman received a note during a meeting that the Pope died. He told the room full of executives the news, but executive vice president of NBC Irwin Segelstein misheard it and panicked to the point that he kept repeating, “What are we going to do?” Silverman did not understand and said, “What are you talking about, Irwin? The Pope died. You’re Jewish.” Segelstein was relieved because he thought Bob Hope, who was at the time doing specials for NBC, had died.

The book is interesting and very readable when its stories are taken individually. However, The Last Great Ride has a major flaw. It is not told in chronological order and becomes jumbled if you try to make sense of the order the stories were published within the book. At one point in The Last Great Ride, Tartikoff goes from a story about the A-Team to a story about something else and then back to the A-Team. This leaves the reader to wonder why the A-Team stories were separated, since they were not even in different chapters.

Brandon Tartikoff knows how to tell great stories, even though he is not as good at organizing them into a coherent book. If The Last Great Ride had an audiobook, it would probably be even better than the book, which is written as though Tartikoff was talking to the reader face to face about his career. The book would be even better with updated material about the rest of Tartikoff’s career. Unfortunately, Tartikoff died in 1997, so stories about Tartikoff’s year at Paramount will not be making their way into an updated version of the book because there will not be one. At least, television fanatics are lucky enough to read Brandon Tartikoff’s stories in print, since we would not be hearing them otherwise.

About Allison Lips

I am the Toastmasters District 83 Public Relations manager and President of Freehold Phrasers.

Posted on May 19, 2012, in Books About Television, Network Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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