Review: ‘The Revolution Was Televised’ by Alan Sepinwall

by Kim on February 4, 2013 · 16 comments

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Title: The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever
Author: Alan Sepinwall
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2012
Publisher: Self-Published (Touchstone — February 26, 2013)
Acquired: Bought
Rating: ★★★★½

Why I Read It: My favorite pop culture critic, Linda Holmes, and a trusted book blogger, Florinda (The 3R’s Blog) both recommended it.

Summary: A mob boss in therapy. An experimental, violent prison unit. The death of an American city, as seen through a complex police investigation. A lawless frontier town trying to talk its way into the United States. A corrupt cop who rules his precinct like a warlord. The survivors of a plane crash trying to make sense of their disturbing new island home. A high school girl by day, monster fighter by night. A spy who never sleeps. A space odyssey inspired by 9/11. An embattled high school football coach. A polished ad exec with a secret. A chemistry teacher turned drug lord.

These are the subjects of 12 shows that started a revolution in TV drama: The SopranosOzThe WireDeadwoodThe ShieldLostBuffy the Vampire Slayer24Battlestar GalacticaFriday Night LightsMad MenBreaking Bad. (Source)

Review: If you need an example of how individual recommendations sell books, the way I came to read The Revolution Was Televised is a perfect example. Sometime last November, my favorite pop culture critic, Linda Holmes, tweeted about how great this book was. I looked it up on Barnes & Noble, saw the topic and price, and bought it immediately. Last month, a trusted book blogger, Florinda (The 3R’s Blog) posted a review and recommended I start it right away. So I did. 

What makes this interesting, I think, is that The Revolution Was Televised is a self-published book, and I have serious reservations about self-published stories. But in addition to good recommendations, The Revolution Was Televised has the ingredients I think are necessary for a successful self-published book. The author, Alan Sepinwall, is a TV critic for HitFix and has built a strong audience for his pop culture writing through his blog, What’s Alan Watching? The book, a collection of essays about some of the great dramatic television shows of the last decade plus, takes the best of his blog writing and adds to it, offering a new product for regular readers and the general public.

And, because of his public profile, Sepinwall was able to garner the kinds of high-profile, positive reviews that a book without big buck marketing needs, notably a big review from Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times.

Originally, Sepinwall shopped a version of the book around to several publishers (including Touchstone, which recently decided to acquire the book), but got a string of rejections. So, he decided to publish it himself. The book has been a big success and, just recently, was picked up by a major publisher.

The book is, quite often, very “inside baseball” — a lot of talk of producers and writers and network executives who went from Show A to Show B, rejected Show C, and then met up again on Show D to make it a success. I’m not great with names, especially when they jump between chapters as many of these did, but feeling a little bit confused on those small details never got in my way of enjoying the majority of what Sepinwall was doing.

The book is strongest, in my opinion, when Sepinwall is just celebrating television. The book is full of smart analysis of great seasons and great episodes, but also isn’t hesitant to say that the fifth season of The Wire was polarizing or that The Sopranos struggled in the middle of its run. And often it’s not so much about what the shows were doing individually as much as it is about how these shows and their creators, as a collective, built a strong home for dramatic storytelling on television.

Unfortunately (perhaps), it also added a number of shows to my already overflowing Netflix queue. Although I think Oz might be too violent for me, I’m really curious to give others like Buffy the Vampire SlayerBattlerstar Galactica, and The Sopranos a try at some point. I only became an avid tv drama watcher near the end of this run of shows, so I have some cultural catching up to do.

If you are a reader who also loves television and believe that it’s worth the time to write seriously about our favorite television shows, The Revolution Was Televised will be right in your wheelhouse. It’s available as an ebook now and should be out in paperback this month. I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie C February 5, 2013 at 5:48 am

This post was so interesting to read! I don’t know if I want to read a whole book analyzing TV shows, but I do like to hear from reviewers or friends to know what to watch. If we’re going to invest a huge number of hours on a TV show, I want it to be a complex series that is both addictive and worth watching! That’s how we heard about Homicide, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and others.

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

I look for reviews for which TV shows to watch — the boyfriend and I like to watch old shows, and we pick them based on reviewer and personal recommendations. This book added a bunch to my list!

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jennygirl February 5, 2013 at 7:21 am

from one who has watched most of those shows the book is based on, I would agree with the author that these shows may changed the landscape of TV. These are shows that are always discussed, and bring up major issues that most shows will never touch.
Battlestar pushed the envelope at a time when people were vulnerable.
Buffy is much more than a highschool girl.
Sopranos…well there’s too much to say about that.

I think you will enjoy all three. Must let me know what you think.

I will definitely pick this one up. Thanks kim.

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:36 am

I think this book will be excellent for someone who has watched more of the shows that are mentioned in the book. But I still liked it even if I wasn’t as familiar with the shows as others.

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Jenny February 5, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I didn’t know this was self-published! As you say, it’s gotten a lot of attention — I heard about it from a bunch of different sources — and self-published never crossed my mind. (Someone probably said so and I was just being inattentive.) I do like Alan Sepinwall! He is a smart and amusing writer.

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:37 am

I haven’t read Alan Sepinwall before, but I did subscribe to his blog after reading this book. He’s a very astute pop culture writer.

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Joanna February 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I think Buffy has some of the most intelligent TV writing ever, I do hope you try it and end up a convert. This book sounds great – the only downside would be adding more shows to my list!

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:40 am

I tried Buffy once, but I think I didn’t give it enough episodes before switching to something else. I’m going to try it again, maybe after The West Wing.

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Florinda February 7, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Oh, so glad you read–and liked–this! I share most of your reservations about self-pubbed work, but this was done right (and the publishing story is interesting in itself). And I love good talk about TV.

And you definitely need to get caught up on shows lie Buffy and Battlestar–aside from being great TV, they’re significant cultural reference points

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:41 am

I love the publishing story; I think it’s fascinating, and a good example of how the whole publishing landscape is changing.

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maphead February 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Oh man I HAVE to read this! I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan and I loved Deadwood too. Breaking Bad is a joy to watch too. Thanks for reviewing this!

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 8:42 am

I’m not sure if I’d call Breaking Bad a joy to watch (Walt is super evil!), but I do love it.

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maphead February 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Good point! I find myself yelling “did they just show that on TV?!!” ”
Sometimes it can get pretty grim and intense. And I love it!

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Kim February 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Yeah, Nate and I usually end every episode with an “Oh my gosh, did that just happen!?” moment. It’s good tv, that’s for sure.

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Christy March 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I’m not sure I would want to read this (I love great television shows but don’t feel compelled to read a lot about how they were made), but I just had to comment that I’m a Linda Holmes fan too. I enjoy listening to the podcast she’s on, called Pop Culture Happy Hour. I’m often getting great recommendations from there.

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