New book delves into David Susskind’s legacy

Stephen Battaglio explores the indie producer's work

In his day, David Susskind was inescapable.

He was a formidable force in television, legit and film circles, as a talent agent turned producer of high-gloss live dramatic TV productions and issue-oriented series like “East Side/West Side,” the CBS drama about social workers. He became a famous face in his own right as the host of an unconventional, salon-style talkshow that ran for nearly 30 years until his death in 1987.

But Susskind’s legacy has faded in the intervening years. And that makes the time ripe for a painstakingly detailed bio-graphy, “David Susskind: A Televised Life,” penned by TV Guide business editor Stephen Battaglio.

The book, released this month by St. Martin’s Press, stemmed from a 2001 article Battaglio wrote for the New York Times. Susskind’s show was a regular presence in Battaglio’s home when he was growing up, and his fascination with Susskind only grew as he researched his life. (Who knew? Norman Lear is a first cousin of Susskind.)

“His show always felt a little dangerous,” Battaglio says. “Aside from interviewing actors and politicians, he would go on the fringe of society and interview people like hitmen and prostitutes and transsexuals.”

Susskind’s “sheer will to survive” as an indie producer, amid the vagaries of showbiz, is impressive — and telling, for today’s media mavens, he says.

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