I think this interesting, detailed book will be best enjoyed by those of a "certain age," who can recall the original creation of each step along the way. If you're in your mid-40s, you might very well have watched "Hill Street Blues," and realized, when Hill and Renko got shot, that it was something different, even if you weren't sure how or why.
Author Brett Martin answers that 'why' and 'how' for many of the current high-quality shows we take totally for granted. The 'showrunners' behind "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Mad Men," etc., are creative producers at the top of their game, but none of them walked into a studio and just started making shows; their personal timelines date back decades, with a surprising amount of collaboration between them. Each had to overcome obstacles and a lack of network faith.
Martin does not recap show plots and stories. Rather it walks the reader through the decisions, proposals, and occasional lucky breaks and coincidences that led to each show's genesis - FX's "The Shield" was greenlit just before 9/11 for example; another two weeks, and it's probably never made. So it's not about the shows, but the offices that created the shows - it's much more interesting than that might sound.
Each of these shows required a complete commitment from its creator - and a lot of breaks in-between. Anybody who ever thinks "oh, creative people are just lucky" is an idiot. They made their own 'luck' with a single-minded devotion and talent that 99 percent of people can't relate to, and Martin's biographical accounts fill in those blanks. These men are often (not always) jerks, self-righteous, meanspirited, uncompromising, and in many accounts fairly difficult to be around, but the book's stories show that without that personality, things often don't get done at this high level. Martin's done a great job with both reporting and interviews to create these detailed portraits (but it assumes you are already familiar with the shows themselves).
I don't agree with another reviewer's comment that the book is "70 percent" Sopranos. There is a lot about David Chase, but he connects to many other stories, so it makes sense. Many of the men worked together or for each other, at some point. Sometimes it went well, sometimes not (The "Damages" to "Sopranos" connection is kind of funny).
I wish there had been a woman represented somewhere, but Tina Fey and the comedy "30 Rock" would have been a difficult fit.
Like any book about nostalgia, this book assumes you care - a lot - about its subject matter. If you're only mildly curious, you might roll your eyes at constant references to TV's 'Third Golden Age' and other melodramatic phrases.
But it's like that scene in "Devil Wears Prada" where Meryl Streep sneers at her assistant who doesn't care about a color choice - an amazing amount of money and effort went into these shows, and they get millions of people to invest their time with them on a weekly basis (and with HBO, pay for the privilege). So you can roll your eyes if you want, but whether it's these shows or many other shows, creative effort from these men or their proteges is probably on display and we're sitting on the couch watching it. These shows have supplanted movies as the 'water cooler conversation' and social thread that ties us together. I appreciated seeing what it took to get there.