Bookshelf: The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows

The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present
By Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
First Published in 1979
Eighth Edition Published in 2003
1592 Pages

According to a quote on the cover, TV Guide called The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present the “Guinness Book of World Records” and the “Encyclopedia Britannica of television.” I don’t think either of those comparisons are overstated. This encyclopedic tome, compiled by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, is the reference book I’ve turned to the most over the years. For television historians or researchers and casual fans alike, it is a must have.

The current edition of the book was published in October 2007. That would be the ninth edition. The first edition came out in 1979 and updated editions have been issued once every three or four years. At the moment I’m still using my copy of the eighth edition, which was published in October 2003 and covers TV shows through April of that year. The ninth edition contains listings for some 6,500 television programs compared to only 6,000 for the eighth edition. Coverage goes back to 1946, although listings for many early programs are understandably sparse.

A scan of the cover of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows

Front Cover (Eighth Edition) – Copyright 2003 The Random House Publishing Group

For each listing, the authors include the first and last telecast, a broadcast history with all the days days and times the show was aired, regular cast members and a summary. Depending on the series, the summary can range from a sentence to a paragraph to a page or more. Often included are cast changes, guest star rosters and the occasional behind-the-scenes anecdote.

Although the listings make up the bulk of the book, there are also a dozen or so appendices. The most impressive of these are the prime time schedules for each television season, Emmy Award winners for each television season, and the top-rated shows in the Nielsen ratings for each television season. There are also lists of shows that aired on more than one network, shows based on movies, spin-offs and theme songs that became radio hits.

The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows does not include Saturday morning programs–so no Land of the Lost or Shazam! — but is otherwise complete. And the authors have a rule for cable and syndicated programs: if they were not seen in 50% of television homes in the United States they aren’t included.

For anyone who wants to learn more about television, this is a wonderful place to start. And I heartily recommend it, if that means anything.

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7 Replies to “Bookshelf: The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows”

  1. EVERY library I’ve ever been to has at least one copy of this valuable reference work on its shelves- and I have a copy somewhere, although I usually read it to the point where the front and back covers AND the first few pages fall off….I’m going to get the current edition soon.

    From time to time, I send Mr. Brooks additional information or correct errors in some of the listings (and got credit on the acknowledgment page at least twice)- the entry on “THE DENNIS O’KEEFE SHOW” is still in error, though {it took place in New York, NOT “Los Angeles”, even though it was filmed there}, and he still hasn’t listed Hope Emerson’s character as Amelia “Sarge” Sargent, as it should be.


  2. Thanks for the review. Do you know if this book, or the 1996 Total Television, lists made-for-TV movies? Thanks.

  3. No, neither work includes a comprehensive listing of made-for-TV movies. There have been reference books written focusing on made-for-TV movies, including one by Alvin H. Marill and another by Maj Canton. Marill’s most recent version, Movies Made for Television: 1964-2004, is a five-volume work that unfortunately costs several hundred dollars new. An earlier version, Movies Made for Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-Series, 1964-1984, has been out of print for decades but can be found used rather cheaply.

  4. One problem with this book (along with the same problem as any book of this type, misinformation, whether from typos or faulty research) is they consider a season of rerun broadcasts as an additional season. So “The Twilight Zone” is listed as having six seasons in the “Longest-Running Series” appendix when it had only five seasons and “Father Knows Best” is under the heading 9 seasons when it was only on for six. “Gomer Pyle, USMC” is listed as six seasons when it only aired original episodes for five.

    New episodes in syndication aren’t counted as well, as “Lassie” is listed as 17 seasons when it continued in new episodes for two seasons in syndication. It is unknown whether Lassie in syndication was seen in more or less than 50% of the homes but it seems arbitrary not to include those two seasons. Programs such as “The Lawrence Welk Show” and “Hee Haw” also ignore substantial syndicated seasons in this appendix.

    In this list and in the “Top 100 Series of All Time” appendix, programs and their spinoffs are often listed together as if they were one series: “Dragnet” is listed as being on for 12 seasons (1952-70) when it was two series, one from Jan 1952-59 and another from Jan 1967-70) ; “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy,” in which Lucille Ball played two different characters with two different families is listed as one series which ran twelve years when, in reality, each series lasted six seasons.

  5. This book was, I think, my 2nd book about tv in my now-extensive tv library, after TV Book, which was published in 1978. I bought the 1st edition, which included shows up to fall 1978, scraping together the $ to buy it, then I bought the edition published in 1995 (I think the 4th). I also have 2 editions of TOTAL TELEVISION, including the 1st edition published in 1980.
    This is a great book and has at least 1 thing no other tv book has, a list of nights of the week by month when programs were on in prime time. Unfortunately this book is seen as such an authority that when it makes a mistake, such as stating that The Lucy Show had Lucy move to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, the error is stated as fact and carried forward into other books.

    1. Unlikely. Back in 2007, when the 9th edition came out, Tim Brooks suggested it was probably the final edition. See this archived interview from the defunct Kansas City Star TV Barn blog.

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