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It’s a little late to say hello – like 30 days late. But if I apologize for being tardy then you’ll think it’s going to be easy to get a “sorry” out of me when I piano-wire your show, network, production company, development staff, etc. And I don’t want to lead you astray on that notion.
But it’s impolite to arrive somewhere and then go off in a corner, so let’s get this out of the way. Yes, I’m the new Chief TV Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, arriving at the beginning of the little revolution we’ve started and thrilled to be here. I know a lot of people in the industry already, having been a critic and covering television for more than a decade – most of it at the San Francisco Chronicle, where I cultivated a reputation for being tough but fair. Unless you’re NBC or Jeff Zucker, whereby you can substitute “a jerk” for “tough” and “more bitter than a mouth full of aspirin and a lime chaser” for “fair.”
Having already written a number of reviews and industry pieces for THR, I toss off this weirdly late welcome column for the people in the business who don’t know me. I’m looking forward to meeting you. Or your people. (OK, that’s not exactly true, but it’s better than admitting I’m not looking forward to meeting you or your people in case I wind up liking both you and them, and then have to savage your latest project. That’s always awkward. And sometimes unfortunate.) Let’s just keep in mind the old saying, “Reasonable people can disagree.”
So, I thought I’d make a list of things I believe in, love or hate – just in case you haven’t seen any of my clips from the last 10 years and you need to get a superficial handle on what I’m all about.
1. I love television. Even when it hurts my soul to watch so much of the crap that’s on it. I hope none of that was yours.
2. I believe strongly in what I’ll call the 80/20 principle. If 80 percent of television is in some way a complete failure and graveyard of tired ideas, poor execution, hackery, condescension and lameness, then the other 20 percent is brilliant. And that collection of greatness inside the 20 percent is so vast that you couldn’t possibly watch it all. In my book, that’s a victory for the industry.
3. Following on that, I believe television to be vastly superior to film when it comes to character development, nuance, novelistic storytelling and ambition. Two hours is a thumbnail sketch. Nothing can compete with a living, breathing story that goes five wonderful seasons.
4. I’m going to side with scripted series over reality every time. Television is a writer’s medium. Period.
5. Yes, I know that “unscripted” series are also written. But not like Mad Men or 30 Rock.
6. Laugh tracks and pandering live studio audiences kill art dead.
7. I have gone on record, many times, saying that there’s a way to tell “unscripted” from “reality” programming. The first is in some way informative, interesting and compelling in the same way a nonfiction book might be. The latter means you have to take a shower after watching it.
8. I like smart network and cable executives. I like savvy programmers and schedulers and development people. I like ambitious show runners and brilliant writers and producers. It’s just sad when all of these people work with pinheads.
9. The television industry is run on fear, not instinct. If you can disprove that, let’s have lunch.
10. Following on that thought, the industry likes change the way really old people like technology. And speaking of technology, if someone could invent a device that rid the industry of obsequious, backslapping yes-people, they would be the next Steve Jobs.
11. Not even Steve Jobs can save NBC Universal. But I’m rooting for someone to come along who can.
12. Though I’m always going to prefer The Wire and The Sopranos and Mad Men and Breaking Bad, sometimes a well-done procedural that satisfies will do. Same goes for a popcorn action show that is at least an ounce smarter than anyone expected. And I understand that most Americans just want to be entertained, not challenged, by television – but that in no way absolves you for making a woeful and stupid show.
13. That said, I’m a sucker for groin thwacks. I also believe that, in a select group of others yet unnamed, both Sebastian Cabot and ALF were misunderstood visionaries.
14. In comedy, I also like anger and swearing.
15. Don’t lie to me like I’m Montel Williams. (Sage advice from an old, superb show).
16. I am not located in Los Angeles. This is to make sure that what I do – which is both criticism and “failure analysis” – isn’t tainted by the insular myopia and institutionalized rewarding of feckless “creative” people who know someone who knows someone and, because of that, are now one of six executive producers on a sitcom that is draining my will to live. Honestly, people, take a car trip out of state.
17. On the other hand, I’ll be down there a bunch. You can reach me by cell (310-694-2965), email (email@example.com), Twitter (@bastardmachine) and via Facebook (The Bastard Machine). No, I will not join you on Linked In.
18. If you’re wondering, The Bastard Machine is my blog (which will magically appear on this site very soon) and a Facebook fan page. And yes, this Machine kills bad people. And shows.
19. In general, my advice to you is don’t bring the weak stuff. Because I will beat the living hell out of it like an 8-year-old kid juiced up on Skittles and Ritalin, standing with a Wiffle bat on a mound of red ants.
20. I think that’s plenty for now. Let’s all of us get back to work and do great things.
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