First, full disclosure. I bought this book because I worked in Boston television news for several years during what Terry Ann Knopf calls THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOSTON TELEVISION — mostly to reminisce and perhaps discover some previously unknown gossip.
I achieved both those goals, though, on a personal note, I must confess that, in retrospect, reading about this period decades later makes many things I used to care about deeply look pretty inconsequential. Like intense rivalry between three network affiliated stations which now appears trivial and meaningless in the greater scheme of things. But back to the book.
I can’t really see why anyone, other than those who worked in Boston television during the 1970s and 1980s would be very interested in this book. Stories from the anchor days of Tom Ellis, Natalie Jacobson, and Liz Walker— when salaries were flush and news budgets generous– does bring back a period when local television was more experimental and local programming more plentiful. Certainly Knopf is able to cite many examples of programs that were developed in the Boston market first before spreading to a more national audience (i.e. Evening Magazine and Chronicle to name just two.) But I don’t see this as some great moral imperative that was particular to Boston.
Yes, Boston had a few enterprising local station owners. But all their innovation was mainly the result of executives discovering that local news and programming could make a TV station lots of money. That and the lucky fact that competition for viewers, in general, was more limited at the time.
By the time the recession of the early 1990s hit, increased competition from cable, Fox News, and independent stations (not to mention personal computers) spelled the end of the “glory days.” But that’s a story true of broadcast stations across the country. So my big criticism is that I didn’t get a satisfying explanation for why Boston was considered such a “star” in the local television arena.
Instead, in a book that runs just about 220 pages, I got an awful lot of tangential content that was never adequately tied to Boston’s golden era. For example, a long historical treatise on the Puritans and how “banned in Boston” came into the lexicon is never really connected. There’s also a look at the Catholic Church (perennially influential in Boston) scandal involving molesting priests — but that happened in the 1990s, after the golden age supposedly ended. Knopf writes about sexual harassment, gender equity, AIDS, and LGBTQ recognition — but in no way was Boston television anything more than simply reflecting significant societal changes going on during the same period. And what does that have to do with the golden age?
So, is this book a clunker? For most audiences, I’m afraid the answer is YES. I finished the book feeling like I’d just read a personal memoir, rather than some insightful explanation of a Boston television phenomenon. So maybe the issue is as simple as the book’s title. Instead of a grandiose title full of promise, something more like MEMORIES FROM MY CAREER AS A BOSTON TV CRITIC by Terry Ann Knopf might have been better.