Tim Brooks’ book is TV biz’s bible

Executive writes 'Directory' in his spare time

Talk about attention to detail.

Tim Brooks, co-author of “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network & Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present,” got so annoyed at the writers of the hit 1960s sitcom “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” that he took them to task in print.

His complaint: The writers couldn’t seem to figure out the name of one of the main characters, played by Barbara Stuart. “It was Harper in one episode, Olsen in another, Wilson in another,” Brooks writes in the show’s entry in the “Directory.” “Perhaps she was a fugitive!”

That gentle jab reflects the buttoned-down mind of the man who has led something of a dual life for the past 30 years.

By day Brooks pores over the Nielsen ratings as one of the top programming-research executives in the TV biz. But in his spare time, he’s become the leading authority on the history of network programming, thanks to the mix of wit and meticulousness that fills every page of the “Directory,” co-written with his longtime friend and co-author Earle Marsh.

First published in 1979, the “Directory” has become a fixture in the offices of every television network, studio and ad agency, every writers’ room and the bookshelves of non-pros who happen to be TV fanatics. It’s far and away the bestselling television-reference tome of all time; the ninth edition of the book has just landed in bookstores.

Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBC Universal TV, says, “The ‘Directory” is “indispensable to anybody in the business.””I use it all the time,” says Brad Adgate, head of research for Horizon Media.

Brooks, 65, is preparing to put a close to the executive chapter of his life on Dec. 31 after spending the past eight years as senior veep and head of research for Lifetime Television. He spent all of his adult career in TV research, first for the NBC-owned TV-stations group, then for the NBC network in the 1970s and ’80s; in the ’90s, he was senior VP for USA Network.

Now, Brooks is ready to shift to full-time writing and researching on subjects dear to his heart. He’s planning a book about the history of copyright and one about early music recordings, another passion.

“Tim has more than 10,000 78 RPM records buried in the basement” of his home in Greenwich, Ct., says Marsh, who met Brooks when they were toiling together in adjacent offices at NBC.

They put together the idea to assemble the ultimate compendium to TV shows, past and present, because nothing like it existed. They avoided the term encyclopedia, Brooks says, because they didn’t want the show descriptions to be dry and academic but lively and readable.

The book was a monumental undertaking in the era before email and Web-based archives. The two combed through press releases, old issues of TV Guide and any other materials they could get their hands on to compile the first edition of “Directory.”

Brooks’ devotion to music paid off in 2004 with the publication of “Lost Sounds: Blacks & the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919,” the fruit of 15 years of time stolen from weekends and vacations.

Brooks digitally transferred some of his stash of 78s, signing with Archeophone to release a double CD set, also called “Lost Sounds,” which earned the Grammy Award this year for historical album.

But it’s the TV directory that will be Brooks’ most enduring legacy. Those of us who consult it every day can’t imagine a world without an alphabetical directory listing the premiere date of “My Three Sons,” or the timeslot history of “Mad About You,” or the cast changes on “Father Knows Best,” or the month and year that Jackie Gleason moved from DuMont to CBS.

One reason Brooks is such a stickler for accuracy, he says, is that the Library of Congress relies on the book’s index to provide the definitive spelling for showbiz names.

Brooks and Marsh divvy up the writing and compiling of the directory by each covering different networks.

“But,” Marsh adds, “Tim loves to do detective work by unearthing the harder-to-find shows.”

Brooks says the “Directory” essay he’s proudest of concerns the completely forgotten 1946 NBC series “Hour Glass.” “It was the first hourlong entertainment series of any kind produced for network television,” he writes, “the first show to develop its own star, the first big variety series and the most ambitious production by far ever attempted up to its time.”

During its 10-month run, “Hour Glass” included such guests as Peggy Lee, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, character actor Paul Douglas and comic Joey Faye. Unfortunately, as Brooks notes, the NBC “network” at that time consisted of only three cities: New York (where the series originated), Philadelphia and Schenectady, N.Y.

As he segues into retirement, Brooks says he’s looking forward to beefing up his website, www.TimBrooks.net, with articles, reviews and curiosities from a life of eclectic pursuits, such as an audio tape of an interview he conducted with Johnny Cash in the early ’60s, when Brooks was a Dartmouth student.

Among TV-research mavens, Brooks’ retirement is a milestone moment. It’s unlikely that any one research exec will take on his industry-authority role in the near future.

“Tim raised the level of discourse,” says Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for the Turner Cable Networks. “We’re all going to miss him.”