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The inside stories of the biggest businesses in television and the Internet.media biz

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Ben Mezrich. Accidental Billionaires: the founding of Facebook, a tale of sex, money, genius and betrayal.

Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard undergraduates and best friends–outsiders at a school filled with polished prep-school grads and long-time legacies. They shared both academic brilliance in math and a geeky awkwardness with women. Eduardo figured their ticket to social acceptance–and sexual success–was getting invited to join one of the university’s Final Clubs, a constellation of elite societies that had groomed generations of the most powerful men in the world and ranked on top of the inflexible hierarchy at Harvard. Mark, with less of an interest in what the campus alpha males thought of him, happened to be a computer genius of the first order. Which he used to find a more direct route to social stardom: one lonely night, Mark hacked into the university’s computer system, creating a ratable database of all the female students on campus–and subsequently crashing the university’s servers and nearly getting himself kicked out of school. In that moment, in his Harvard dorm room, the framework for Facebook was born.What followed–a real-life adventure filled with slick venture capitalists, stunning women, and six-foot-five-inch identical-twin Olympic rowers–makes for one of the most entertaining and compelling books of the year. Before long, Eduardo’s and Mark’s different ideas about Facebook created in their relationship faint cracks, which soon spiraled into out-and-out warfare. The collegiate exuberance that marked their collaboration fell prey to the adult world of lawyers and money. The great irony is that while Facebook succeeded by bringing people together, its very success tore two best friends apart. The Accidental Billionaires is a compulsively readable story of innocence lost–and of the unusual creation of a company that has revolutionized the way hundreds of millions of people relate to one another.

 

Scott Collins. Crazy Like a Fox: the inside story of how Fox News beat CNN.

The 1990s were a time of radical change in television. The broadcast networks – ABC, NBC, and CBS – lost their grip on viewers while cable stations like HBO emerged as hotbeds of creativity. And the news, long delivered by sober-faced anchors on The Big Three, was being radically changed by the all-news cable networks, first CNN, then MSNBC, and finally – and most radically – Fox News Channel. The bare knuckles triumph of right-leaning Fox News, which went from start-up to number one in five years, is one of the great business sagas of our time. In Crazy Like a Fox, television and media reporter Scott Collins reveals countless stories about the personalities that we allow into our homes every day and the executives who pull the strings behind the scenes. Scott Collins offers a glimpse of what the future holds for American journalism now that “Fair and Balanced” Fox rules the airwaves, and how much its success reflects a dramatic shift not only in American television, but in the way Americans get – and use – the news.

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Roger Mudd.  The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the glory days of television news.

Famed journalist and broadcast anchor Roger Mudd recounts his days with CBS and how that news bureau operated during its heady days as a global information leader. From the congressional debate during the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Mudd’s departure from CBS in 1980, he offers an insider’s glimpse into the political events of the last half of the twentieth century with an informative, episodic narrative structure. Mudd offers equal doses of humor and meaning with each story of this memoir, which should appeal to anyone who has followed his career through the decades.

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Douglas Edwards. I’m Feeling Lucky: the confessions of Google employee number 59.

Comparing Google to an ordinary business is like comparing a rocket to an Edsel. No academic analysis or bystander’s account can capture it. Now Doug Edwards, Employee Number 59, offers the first inside view of Google, giving readers a chance to fully experience the bizarre mix of camaraderie and competition at this phenomenal company. Edwards, Google’s first director of marketing and brand management, describes it as it happened. We see the first, pioneering steps of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the company’s young, idiosyncratic partners; the evolution of the company’s famously nonhierarchical structure (where every employee finds a problem to tackle or a feature to create and works independently); the development of brand identity; the races to develop and implement each new feature; and the many ideas that never came to pass. Above all, Edwards—a former journalist who knows how to write—captures the “Google Experience,” the rollercoaster ride of being part of a company creating itself in a whole new universe.

Burk Friedersdorf. From Crystal to Color: WFBM.

From Crystal to Color tells the intimate, behind-the-scenes story of local radio and television.  From garage hobby to glamorous “Big Business”, the exciting industry has grown from creeping infant to vigorous adults in only forty years.  Pioneering in this remarkable field, WFBM Radio-TV of Indianapolis, in its forty years of service to Indiana, has played a major role in the development of this fabulous world of communication and entertainment.  From its studios have emerged many of the great names of show business who established themselves with Hoosier audiences before going on to national–and sometimes international–fame in the entertainment capitals.  Her, in these pages, many nostalgically recall early days in Indianapolis, poignantly expressing deep regard and personal affection for the Indianapolis people–our friends and neighbors–who made possible their success.  

James Andrew Miller. Those Guys Have All the Fun: inside the world of ESPN.

It began, in 1979, as a mad idea of starting a cable channel to televise local sporting events throughout the state of Connecticut. Today, ESPN is arguably the most successful network in modern television history, spanning eight channels in the Unites States and around the world. But the inside story of its rise has never been fully told-until now. Drawing upon over 500 interviews with the greatest names in ESPN’s history and an All-Star collection of some of the world’s finest athletes, bestselling authors James Miller and Tom Shales take us behind the cameras. Now, in their own words, the men and women who made ESPN great reveal the secrets behind its success-as well as the many scandals, rivalries, off-screen battles and triumphs that have accompanied that ascent. From the unknown producers and business visionaries to the most famous faces on television, it’s all here.

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Gina Keating. Netflixed: the epic battle for America’s eyeballs.

The history of Netflix is a long struggle for greatness marked by multiple disasters, lucky breaks, personal betrayal, and broken hearts. It has more drama than most of the movies Netflix rents. Netflix has come a long way since 1997, when two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Marc Ran­dolph and Reed Hastings, decided to start an online DVD store before most people owned a DVD player. They were surprised and elated when launch-day traffic in April 1998 crashed their server and resulted in 150 sales. Today, Netflix has more than 25 million subscribers and annual revenues above $3 billion. Yet long- term success—or even survival—is still far from guaranteed. Journalist Gina Keating recounts the absorbing, fast-paced drama of the company’s turbulent rise to the top and its attempt to invent two new kinds of business. First it engaged in a grueling war against video-store behemoth Blockbuster, transforming movie rental forever. Then it jumped into an even bigger battle for online video streaming against Google, Hulu, Amazon, and the big cable companies. Netflix ushered in such innovations as DVD rental by mail, a patented online queue of upcom­ing rentals, and a recommendation algorithm called Cinematch that proved crucial in its struggle against bigger rivals. Yet for all its success, Netflix is still a polariz­ing company. Hastings is often heralded as a visionary—he was named Business Person of the Year in 2010 by Fortune—even as he has been called the nation’s worst CEO. Netflix also faces disgruntled customers after price increases and other stumbles that could tarnish the brand forever. The quest to become the world’s portal for pre­mium video on demand will determine nothing less than the future of entertainment and the Internet. Drawing on extensive new interviews and her years covering Netflix as a financial and entertainment reporter, Keating makes this tale as absorbing as it is important.

Frank Batten. The Weather Channel: the improbable rise of a media phenomenon.

Twenty years ago, who’d have believed that millions of viewers would follow the twists and turns of storms developing across the globe with the rapt attention once reserved for thriller movies? That a single television channel could simultaneously inform and entertain us, enrich our lives and, at times, help save them? This is the story of The Weather Channel, a cable network that succeeded when almost all the experts predicted it would fail. Told by one of the key figures in the network’s success, former Chairman and CEO Frank Batten, this is at once a deeply personal account of high-stakes entrepreneurship and a fascinating case study of a media business both experiencing and driving major change.

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Warren Littlefield. Top of the Rock: the rise and fall of Must See TV.

Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, ER, Cheers, Law & Order, Will & Grace…Here is the funny, splashy, irresistible insiders’ account of the greatest era in television history — told by the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the network executives who made it happen…and watched it all fall apart. Warren Littlefield was the NBC President of Entertainment who oversaw the Peacock Network’s rise from also-ran to a division that generated a billion dollars in profits.  In this fast-paced and exceptionally entertaining oral history, Littlefield and NBC luminaries including Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wylie, Debra Messing, Jack Welch, Jimmy Burrows, Helen Hunt, and Dick Wolf vividly recapture the incredible era of Must See TV.  From 1993 through 1998, NBC exploded every conventional notion of what a broadcast network could accomplish with the greatest prime-time line-up in television history. On Thursday nights, a cavalcade of groundbreaking comedies and dramas streamed into homes, attracting a staggering 75 million viewers and generating more revenue than all other six nights of programming combined. The road to success, however, was a rocky one. How do you turn a show like Seinfeld, one of the lowest testing pilots of all time, into a hit when the network overlords are constantly warring, or worse, drowning in a bottle of vodka?   Top of the Rock is an addictively readable account of the risky business decisions, creative passion, and leaps of faith that made Must See TV possible. Chock full of delicious behind-the-scenes anecdotes that run the gamut from hilarious casting and programming ploys to petty jealousies and drug interventions, you’re in for a juicy, unputdownable read.

Craig Marks. I Want My MTV: the uncensored story of the music video revolution.

Remember the first time you saw Michael Jackson dance with zombies in “Thriller”? Diamond Dave karate kick with Van Halen in “Jump”? Tawny Kitaen turning cartwheels on a Jaguar to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”? The Beastie Boys spray beer in “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)”? Axl Rose step off the bus in “Welcome to the Jungle”?  Remember When All You Wanted Was Your MTV?  It was a pretty radical idea-a channel for teenagers, showing nothing but music videos. It was such a radical idea that almost no one thought it would actually succeed, much less become a force in the worlds of music, television, film, fashion, sports, and even politics. But it did work. MTV became more than anyone had ever imagined. I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business. Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.

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Sharon Oreck. Video slut : how I shoved Madonna off an Olympic high dive, got Prince into a pair of tny purple woolen underpants, ran away from Michael Jackson’s dad, and got a waterfall to flow backward so I could bring rock videos to the masses.

When video killed the radio star, Sharon Oreck was calling the shots. Video Slut takes an irreverent look behind the scenes of the music-video industry during its eighties heyday. Oreck, one of the top producers of all time, bluffed her way into the business with no experience whatsoever and went on to produce more than six hundred video shoots with Madonna, Sting, Mick Jagger, Prince, and several members of the increasingly unstable Jackson family—not to mention a cadre of delinquent caterers, deranged interns, self-absorbed record executives, and malfeasant animal trainers. Oreck also shares the at turns hilarious, biting, and poignant story of her origins as a single teen mother, disowned by her middle-class parents, and of her journey from welfare to kung fu movie sets to film school. She approaches her own delinquency and that of the superstars she encountered with humor and candor. The result is an acerbic but sympathetic account of the outrageous effects of fame, power, and money on people in the entertainment business. No one is spared, especially herself.

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