Bestselling author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, cultural critic Peter Biskind turns his eye toward the new golden age of television, sparked by the fall of play-it-safe network TV and the rise of boundary-busting cable, followed by streaming, which overturned both—based on exclusive, candid, and colorful interviews with executives, writers, showrunners, directors, and actors
We are now lucky enough to be living through the era of so-called Peak TV, in which television, in its various guises and formats, has seized the entertainment mantle from movies and dominates our leisure time. How and why this happened is the subject of this book.
Instead of focusing on one service, like HBO, Pandora’s Box asks, “What did HBO do, besides give us The Sopranos?” The answer: It gave us a revolution. Biskind bites off a big chunk of entertainment history, following HBO from its birth into maturity, moving on to the basic cablers like FX and AMC, and ending up with the streamers and their wars, pitting Netflix against Amazon Prime Video, Max, and the killer pluses—Disney, Apple TV, and Paramount.
Since the creative and business sides of TV are thoroughly entwined, Biskind examines both, and the interplay between them. Through frank and shockingly intimate interviews with creators and executives, Pandora’s Box investigates the dynamic interplay of commerce and art through the lens the game-changing shows they aired—not only old warhorses like The Sopranos, but recent shows like The White Lotus, Succession, and Yellow- (both -stone and -jackets)—as windows into the byzantine practices of the players as they use money and guile to destroy their competitors.
In the end, this book crystal-balls the future in light of the success and failures of the streamers that, after apparently clearing the board, now face life-threatening problems, some self-created, some not. With its long view and short takes—riveting snapshots of behind-the-scenes mischief—Pandora’s Box is the only book you’ll need to read to understand what’s on your small screen and how it got there.
PETER BISKIND is a cultural critic and film historian. He was editor in chief of American Film magazine from 1981 to 1986, and executive editor of Premiere magazine from 1986 to 1996. His writing has appeared in scores of national publications, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, The Nation, Newsweek, and The Washington Post, as well as film periodicals such as Sight and Sound and Film Quarterly. He is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He has published eight books, including the bestsellers Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, that have been translated into several languages. He is executive director of the annual Film-Columbia Festival held in the Hudson Valley.
“One of Hollywood’s shrewdest chroniclers . . . explains in punchy, propulsive prose, how we went from Tony Soprano to Ted Lasso. . . . ‘Pandora’s Box’ is as unsparing as ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bull,’ and the thesis of the two books is the same: Hollywood’s golden ages don’t arise from the miraculous congregation of geniuses. The industry’s default setting is for crap. . . . [Biskind] focuses . . . on the machinations of high-powered monsters . . . and lays out a sprawling, amoral ecosystem with the dispassion of an omniscient narrator.” — New Yorker
“Tackling the fall of network TV, rise of cable, and middling new era of streaming, this interview-packed volume might just have the answers to a question that keeps me up at night: How come TV sucks now?” — The Millions
“In his new book, author Peter Biskind catalogs real-life misbehavior by the principals responsible for an array of lauded series with the same unsparing eye that he detailed the excesses of New Hollywood in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.” — Entertainment Weekly Online
"How Ted Lasso killed Tony Soprano . . . A binge-worthy book about TV's recent history." — The Economist
"This brisk, blistering account of how streaming has changed where we put our eyeballs is classic binge-worthy reading. I had no idea the people involved in creating culture-altering shows are as entertaining as the shows themselves, but Peter Biskind did, and you’ll never look at them same way again.” — Steven Soderbergh
“Peter Biskind’s Pandora’s Box is not only a richly detailed and colorful account, but also an important and historic document on how television has well and defiantly superseded the cinema in the last thirty years. Biskind brilliantly maneuvers his way through a historic panoply of cinematic and television endeavor with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. A gripping and compulsive read.” — Brian Cox
“Peter Biskind has always been the most rigorous and amusing Hollywood historian we have, taking on the great men of the past—and now with his trademark cheeky intelligence he takes on the giants of the present age of television-as-cinema. Despite my having lived much of the book’s arc, Biskind offers a fresh perspective on the new Wild West of home entertainment.” — Lena Dunham
“Peter Biskind takes on a wild, whirlwind tour of the birth, life, death, and rebirth of cable and streaming services, introducing us to the people behind them who turn out to be as ferociously nutty as the characters they put on the screen.” — David Nasaw, Arthur M. Schlesinger professor of history emeritus, City University of New York Graduate Center
"A lively writer who includes a lot of vastly entertaining gossip about the increasingly corporate drivers of the changes [in the TV and film industry]. A fascinating topic." — Library Journal (starred review)
“This gossip-filled overview of the past 40 years of television will keep readers glued to their seats.” — Publishers Weekly
“Biskind is known as much for his outspoken opinions as his insightful commentary, and Pandora’s Box is Biskind at his most candid. For readers interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the world of television, a must-read.” — Booklist