Sunday, November 17, 2013

“Must Kill TV”—A Book Review

Once again I am breaking format, once again I’m doing a book review.

And once again that book is written by Ken Levine.

Levine writes good.

No, I mean he writes well.  He writes good books.  He writes funny books.

Very funny books. 

Levine, the writer/producer/creator/show-runner of great TV Shows, (Cheers, M*A*S*H, Frasier, et al), the baseball announcer, the blogger (he’s either a renaissance man or he can’t keep a job) has written his first novel.  I liked his previous book (see here) so much, I had to buy the new one, just off the presses, especially since the Kindle edition is only $2.99 (a bargain at half the price).

Levine’s novel is a comic thriller.  It is a vicious, very funny satire on the TV biz.  It’s a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to be the President of a struggling TV network.

Charles Muncie is head of ABN, which has declining ratings.  When Stevie Gersh, the star of his one remaining hit threatens to quit his show, Muncie tells him he’ll do anything to get him to re-up for another season.  Muncie knows his own job—and his prestige, his reputation, his identity and of course, his lifestyle—are on the line.  He thinks he means it when he tells Stevie he’ll do anything, until the star comes back and tells him all he has to do get him for another year his commit one little murder.  He wants his ex-girlfriend dead, merely because she turned down his marriage proposal.

Yeah, that’s all—one little murder.  Muncie is presented initially as a decent guy.  He is devoted (and faithful) to his wife (his college sweetheart) and is a loving father to his daughter.  So of course, there’s no way that Muncie would even consider such a heinous request, right?


There are many twists and turns in the story, and along the way, the TV industry is completely lampooned.  There are fictional characters that are based quite clearly on real people you can identify.  For example, Stevie Gersh appears to be based (loosely, I hope) on Jerry Seinfeld.  I am hoping that Seinfeld isn’t nearly as big an asshole as Stevie Gersh is.  I assume Seinfeld wouldn’t ask to have someone killed.

On the other hand, maybe Seinfeld would have done five more years of his show if the network had just whacked someone for him?

Another minor character is named Tara Durban, a totally obnoxious TV star/writer that is obviously based on Lena Dunham of (HBO’s Girls).  Here, I have every reason to believe the real life version is more offensive than Levine’s caricature.  She provides some hilarious comedy relief.

There’s also plenty of real life Hollywood types mentioned by their real names.  For example, there’s a great running gag about Katherine Heigl.  Another running gag revolves around the fact that Muncie’s all time favorite TV show as (apparently) Alf.  An aside:  I recognized the names of two cops as two of Levine’s writing cohorts from his days on Cheers.  Oh, and there’s a scene that takes place in the real bar in Boston that was the model for Cheers.  

Because it takes place in Hollywood, every single person that Muncie meets is pitching an idea for a TV series.  Even hard-core criminals are looking for a development deal.

As the plot races forward at a break-neck pace, there’s jokes in almost every paragraph.  Some of these jokes service the plot, many are just highly amusing throw away gags. 

I found myself laughing out loud a lot.  It was a bit embarrassing when I was reading it on my celphone in the doctor’s waiting room and everyone kept staring at me.  Fortunately I was at home reading it when I came to one incredible plot twist that had me laughing for about three minutes non-stop.

Muncie is a fascinating protagonist, and I found him surprisingly sympathetic.  The rest of the characters are less developed but service the plot well—and are likely based on people Levine’s worked with.

As a service to my blog readers, I will “warn” you that there’s a fair amount of raunchy sex (hey, it’s Hollywood!).  And the phrase “full, natural breasts” is used more than once.  There is of course some violence too.

I have to admit, I’m not much of a fiction reader these days.  I think the last novel I read was The Old Man and the Sea, which I read when it was first published.  Levine’s book is definitely funnier.  It was fun to get engaged in a book for the first time in a long time.

It’s a fast, funny, suspenseful read.  You don’t see the plot twists coming, and you’re pretty much laughing all the way through.

I couldn’t put it down.  In fact, the other night, I skipped my evening of blog-writing to finish it.  So, since I took a night off from blogging to finish it, I decided I had to at least get a blog post out of it. Hence, this post.

I highly recommend the book, obviously.  It’s only $2.99 for the Kindle version (and $8.73 for the paperback, no hard cover is available).  I’d be shocked if you didn’t get your money’s worth out of it.  You can order it here.

To be clear, I get no money at all if you do buy it.  I don’t even know Mr. Levine.  But clearly, our comic sensibilities are quite similar.  And if the book does well, Levine might just decide to write a sequel.  If he does, I’ll pre-order it.

And as Levine says on the book’s webpage, there are no commercials.

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