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Telling times for tell-all TV tome

Book has sold only 6,000 copies in the first month

Long before its release, Bill Carter‘s take on the 2004-05 TV season, “Desperate Networks,” was touted as essential reading for the biz. Which network execs would the New York Times reporter excoriate? For which shows did he have the must-read scuttlebutt?

As it turned out, not many and, well, not many.

Many critics were lukewarm to the tome, calling the language (e.g., “square-jawed” execs) cliched and many of the tidbits flat.

Turns out consumers feel the same way. The book has sold only 6,000 copies in the first month of release, according to Nielsen BookScan, which accounts for about three-quarters of sales.

It’s a sharp departure from Carter’s account of the early 1990s latenight talk wars, “The Late Shift,” which became a critical and commercial hit by telling a great story set in the halls of network power.

But a wider aud for this book is trickier. Most people want to watch TV shows, not read how they got on the air.

Another problem for “Desperate”? Many in the intended audience for this relentlessly insider account aren’t used to buying books — they either get them for free from the publisher or pick up a dog-eared copy from an insider friend.

It’s also possible the tome simply missed the mark. Reviewers said Carter’s argument that the 2004-05 season changed television forever just isn’t supported.

If the book’s premise feels thin, there may be a reason for it: The book’s idea, publishing insiders say, didn’t really come from Carter. The concept Carter agreed to pursue — a year in the life of a TV season — was generated not by Carter but by Doubleday editor Phyllis Grann, who suggested it to the scribe and his agent.

And, as any author — or square-jawed exec –would attest, it’s always better to develop your own idea.

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