By Alex McNeil
Published in 1996 by Penguin Books
Total Television was my very first television encyclopedia. My copies are quite worn and at one time were filled with sticky notes marking interesting shows. Unlike The Complete Directory to Prime Tim Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present (which I reviewed way back in December 2008), Alex McNeil’s Total Television hasn’t been updated in two decades. The fourth edition, its latest, was published in 1996. The newest version of The Complete Directory came out in 2007. Also, and this unfortunate, Total Television is out of print.
I say unfortunate because despite only including shows broadcast before 1995, Total Television is still a valuable research tool.
Total Television covers some 5,400 television programs broadcast between 1948 and 1995, including daytime shows and cartoons, which The Complete Directory doesn’t. So, for example, you’ll find NBC’s animated Return to the Planet of the Apes in Total Television but not in The Complete Directory. On the other hand, The Complete Directory has a much easier to use layout, with two columns per page, a broadcast history and a detailed cast listing.
Total Television lists start and end dates for each show and includes cast members within a summary. Some of the summaries are lengthy (Dallas covers two and a half pages) while others are only a few sentences. As one would expect, long-running and popular shows are given more coverage. I would of course like more information about shows from the late 1940s. One thing that Total Television does better than The Complete Directory is its prime time schedules. New shows are in bold, cancelled shows are shaded, which is very handy (I don’t have the latest edition of The Complete Directory, so for all I know this has been changed).
While the bulk of the book consists of the 5,400 program entries, Total Television also has a list of notable television specials, the aforementioned prime time schedules, Emmy and Peabody Award winners and the Nielsen Top 20 from each season (ranked without Nielsen ratings). If I had to chose between Total Television and The Complete Directory I would say buy the latest edition of The Complete Directory and try to find a cheap used copy of the 1996. The two complement one another in many ways.