Jotting 3: ‘Pandora’s Box’ by Peter Biskind

31st March 2024

John Wyver writes: I had been looking forward to Peter Biskind‘s latest book, which in the States is titled Pandora’s Box: How Guts, Guile and Greed Upended TV, and which over here carries the slightly desperate, and arguably reportable to the ASA, subtitle The Greed, Lust and Lies that Broke Television. His Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex. Drugs and Rock’n’Roll Generation Saved Hollwood is a classic, chronicling the mainstream American film industry of the 1970s. Amd of course, with my Sky and Netflix subs, I have been following the tale he explores in Pandora’s Box since The Sopranos and The Wire.

His subject is the rise of ‘peak TV’, from the emergence of HBO, through the challenges of AMC and Starz, to the explosion of Netflix and on to the current plethora of streamers which, until recently at least, were showering creators of dramas and comedies with dollars in search of ever-elusive tent-pole triumphs like the great and glorious Deadwood (above), Mad Men and Game of Thrones.

The first half of his history is familiar, and is breathlessly related in an engaging manner, but somewhere around the pandemic he loses his focus. We’re plunged into a wearying round of hirings and firings, commissions and cancellations, bad behaviour and big pay-offs, about which even an interested observer (like me) finds it hard to care. Too much like a précis of the recent trade press, with little in the way of careful consideration of the content, Biskind’s account lacks distance, reflection and analysis.

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