Plot or Premise
This is an autobiography of the director of multiple hit TV series over the years, including Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, and Will & Grace.
What I Liked
I have followed the blog of Ken Levine (MASH, Cheers) for a number of years, and he touted the biography of James Burrows in his blog on several occasions and noted that he’s even referenced in the book (minimally as it turns out). But it was enough for me to be interested. When I look at Burrows’ IMDB profile, I see tons of shows I’ve watched and enjoyed over the years: B Positive (3 EPs), Will & Grace (246 EPs), The Big Bang Theory (both pilots), Good Morning, Miami (1 EP), Friends (15 EPs), Caroline in the City (21 EPs), Frasier (32 EPs), Cheers (237 EPs), Night Court (1 EP), Taxi (75 EPs), Laverne & Shirley (8 EPs), and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (4 EPs). So yeah, he’s experienced with a lot of successful shows, and he’s executive produced a number as well. And he has a wealth of stories to share about some of the shows. Some of them are cute and interesting even.
What I Didn’t Like
I think I was perhaps spoiled by the frank style of Ken Levine, and was expecting more of the raw experience behind the scenes. Instead, I got more of a distant view of all of the shows. For some of them, where he was an integral force, I felt like I could have been reading the biography of the guy in charge of craft services. There was very little meat. Once in a while, he dives in for a second, maybe ten times in the book, and about 7 of them are to seemingly take credit for something (like how the Friends’ actors all negotiated as a block for raises or how he comforted Mary Tyler Moore when she was going through a rough patch). In most of the book, the message is he worked with all wonderful fabulous people and it was all relatively smooth sailing all of the time, everyone was one big happy family.
I also found the start of the book really odd. He goes on at great length about how he didn’t want to be on Broadway, he didn’t want to be involved in plays and musicals, he didn’t want to have anything to do with that world because his father was a legend. So he went out of his way, or so he claims, to NOT be in his father’s shadow and do something else. Except perhaps for the first 25-30 years of his life where he did exactly that, being involved in plays and musicals, even in a couple of places getting hired as he was the son of a legend, and even working with his dad on some productions. Which in and of itself would be fine if he said, “I tried so hard and failed” to enter his father’s world, but no, it is written as if he really succeeded in being independent. Then he got his “big break” out West to do TV stuff, and he makes it sound like he was an integral part of work with Mary Tyler Moore. He did four EPs. I don’t know what other role he did on their shows, but they weren’t enough to be credited if he did other EPs as it suggests. Overall, I’d take almost any post of Ken Levine’s over this entire book about his fifty-year career.
The Bottom Line
Apparently, he worked on amazing shows and got to know fabulous people, and there was never any conflict or interesting developments anywhere.