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‘Classic TV Icons: Action & Drama’ (review)

Written by Edward Gross
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

I once considered writing a book I intended to call The Great Television Stars, which would have been a collection of biographical/career overviews of those actors who could do no wrong on the small screen. These would have included the likes of Bill Bixby, William Shatner, David Janssen, Michael Landon…Those guys. Now, here we are in 2023 and prolific pop culture writer and Facebook pal Ed Gross has just come out with a very similar book entitled Classic TV Icons: Action and Drama.

This book actually does have fascinating chapters on Bill Bixby, William Shatner, and David Janssen, but for some reason, no Michael Landon, whom I would have thought an obvious choice for inclusion. Oh, he gets a passing mention as part of a 28-page section that simply lists 92 TV western series that began in the 1950s, along with a brief descriptive paragraph.

The fact that the above is directly preceded by a 26-page section with capsule biographies of all of the name stars who guest-starred on Batman, from John Astin to Zsa Zsa, highlights my problem with Classic TV Icons, and that is the simple fact that it’s all over the place.

The book starts out looking like it’s going to cover a TV icon per chapter, which would make sense, but in-between those chapters, we get the listings and single paragraph bios mentioned above which feel to me as if they should be in appendices. Then there are long interviews such as the one with Rod Serling’s daughter, Anne, or the one with Erin Gray, co-star of Buck Rogers. I have always liked Erin Gray, but is she really a TV icon?

The actual icons included are Bill Bixby (who gets three chapters!), Richard Boone, Jack Webb, Richard Long, Mike Conners, Darren McGavin, Rod Serling, Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, David Janssen, Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Willis, George Reeves, Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, David Hasselhoff, Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Ladd, and the rest of Charlie’s Angels. I question inclusion of a few of those folks as icons as well.

Overall, the book feels like a collection of interesting, well-written, non-standardized, blog posts, rather than something actually planned itself to be a book.

But…these relatively minor issues with the book’s format have no bearing on the book’s actual content, which I enjoyed immensely! As many of you know, I’m a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to classic TV myself, but I will admit to learning something new from Ed in nearly every chapter. The extended Bixby coverage was my favorite, although the Richard Long chapter was the one where I realized I knew virtually nothing about the man beyond his TV charm and his tragic early death.

The author peppers his text with revelatory quotes from many of his subjects, often from newspaper or TV mag interviews at various points in their careers. The ones from Reeves, McGavin, and Janssen are particularly telling, in my opinion. There are other quotations about the icons from their various co-stars, as well as from Ed Gross’s fellow writer/TV historians such as Ed Robertson and Herbie J. Pilato.

While Classic TV Icons-Action and Drama certainly isn’t the book I had envisioned, and I’m not thrilled with its disjointed formatting, I found what is there to be great fun, surprisingly informative, and as always from Ed Gross, well-written, and thus I look forward to the promised follow-up on comedy TV icons.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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