Tim Goodman is one of America's leading television critics, and is currently a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle website hosts an archive of Tim's columns dating back to 1997.

You know all that talk about taking a bullet for you? That thing about watching TV so you don't have to? It's right here right now. And it hurts.
        - from Tim's review of "That Was Then"

Television critics can't complain. It's unacceptable in polite society as well as in this country. As a TV critic you are not curing cancer. You are watching television. On the couch. For a living. Hell, even movie critics have to leave their house to see a screening.
        - on life as a TV critic


I don't believe in those "Kill Your Television" bumperstickers. Not watching TV because you think it's all trash is not only blindly fanatic but also wrong. What, a shuttle blows up, the president gives the State of the Union Address at the same time the O.J. civil verdict comes in, the Gulf War redefines combat TV or there's a documentary on race relations on PBS and you're too good to watch?
        - from "What's not to like about TV?"

In one of the dumbest ideas in history and one that reeks of spitefulness and fear, some organization too insignificant to have its name mentioned here suggests that we all turn our televisions off this week.. In the words of Sean Penn's character from "The Thin Red Line": "What difference do you think you can make, one man in all this madness?"
Turn off the TV? What kind of sick cult promotes that idea? Every year this happens, and there's only one act of defiance that works: Keep the TV on 24 hours a day, all week -- power crisis be damned. First off, it's a great night light. Secondly, you'll never be lonely. Burglars will stay away. And -- here's the beautiful part -- you'll probably find 10, 20, maybe 50 shows that bring a fullness and joy to your life that was absent previously. You know, when you were blowing all those hours at the opera or some art gallery.
To turn your TV off for a week is to miss out on superb children's programming, informative news and information series, arts coverage and fine dramas and sitcoms that make people laugh and forget their miserable lot in life.
        - from "Turn off the TV? Madness!"

This is the sad fate of the b*stard machine: to be blamed for everything. "Oh, my television casts such a spell over me that I'm unable to do anything about it. I'm a helpless victim! For God's sake, will someone come to my house and unplug it?" Where's the responsibility here? Why can't people own up to their faults, their shortcomings? It's the smoking-gave-me-cancer or McDonald's-made-me-fat argument.
Television -- it stopped my family from eating at the same table! It forced me to put a clone of it in my kid's bedroom! Because I'm such a simpleton, I couldn't change the channel when objectionable material appeared before my eyes! And, most damaging of all, it was sent to me with a remote control that had no off button! Isn't there a nonprofit group in Washington, D. C., that can help save me from these life-sapping blue rays?
wanting people to read more is a good thing. We're for that. Wanting them to have a life is also good. Taking walks and smelling flowers: excellent ideas. But the notion that you have to ban television for a week to accomplish this goes against our belief in free will. And personal responsibility. And sanity.
So look, if the b*stard machine is holding you hostage, if the TV in the den has joined forces with the one in the bedroom and all the windows are nailed shut and your copy of "Infinite Jest" has been duct taped shut by the universal remote, then yes, you need saving. Television has wronged you. Let's blame it. That's the American way.
        - from "Conscientious objector in the war on TV"

Everybody likes to think that the bulk of television is lousy. And guess what? It is. But the rest of it — more than you could ever watch, more than completely necessary to live a half-cultured life, is better than most movies, as densely creative and smartly crafted as fine literature.

People who dismiss television are ignoring a social phenomenon. It gives us something that we obviously crave. Escapism, perhaps. Relationship. Continuity. Education in the best moments, mindless entertainment in the worst. Common ground. A blue light that fills some kind of void that a decade of $100 therapy sessions couldn't patch up. It's an electronic security blanket, to be sure.


We have watched so many people forced to eat bugs or cow intestines or degrade themselves in some fashion to win $50,000, that nonfiction humiliation had become our entertainment, replacing stupid (but safe and unreal) sitcom inanities... A frequently asked question from readers is whether we've hit bottom yet with this reality boom. Answer: We haven't even hit the middle.
        - from "Get Real"

Reality TV is doing genetic damage to the population. Each new generation shows less and less resistance to going on television and doing something stupid. In three years it'll be "Who Wants to Light Me on Fire?"

They sent a lawyer onto an island with 15 other people in a game of survival? That's just plain cruel... Be nice. Don't make enemies. At least not in public. Just survive - by any means necessary. Ah, a game show that Darwin could love.
        - Tim takes a look at "Survivor"

Imagine if aliens - you know, like the ones from "Taken," which we don't think has ended yet - plopped down on a couch somewhere in the Haight and watched "Survivor" and found Brian acting like he was the world's most savvy and intelligent strategist? We can imagine them drunk on Mickey's Big Mouth, depressed that they delayed their plans for invasion for so long. "This is all they've got? This Brian guy?"
        - Tim is concerned for humanity

It's easy to pontificate about reality programming and how it denigrates television and reflects poorly on the world as a whole. But it's even easier, and perhaps more accurate, to say: It's your fault. Granted, that statement won't make me a lot of friends. But that's where we'll start today. You. Your fault. OK, if not you, then your neighbor. Or, at the very least, your cousin Lenny in Omaha.
At some point, American viewers will have to retreat from this genre simply because it will go the way of all previous red-hot genres - milked like a cow, then killed for the meat. It's a question of when, not if. Somebody, somewhere, is concocting something you'll want to watch but probably shouldn't. And until you don't, it won't stop.
        - from "Viewers share the blame for reality blights"

"Let's not tweak our necks bemoaning the fall of the Republic just because a bunch of little people are marrying each other or the surgeon's scalpel is turning an ugly duckling into a swan in prime time... We will not fall and divide as a people just because our televisions are temporarily overwhelmed with dreck."
        - from "These Reality Shows Don't Mean the Sky is Falling"

The only thing missing from the current portion of the 'Death March With Cocktails' is a reality series about the 'Death March With Cocktails'. Why not? Everybody else has a reality show. And during the four-day portion of the Television Critics Association press tour devoted to cable, pretty much all we're seeing are reality offerings. Or, in other words, cable channels are rolling out their lack of ideas... Most reality shows look fairly entertaining. That's the thing. From the very first car wreck known to man up to whatever freeway rollover happens next, people rubberneck. They can't NOT look. It's the same with reality shows. Executives can't turn down any half-stupid idea. Viewers can't stop watching them, if only temporarily before skipping on to something else.
        - from Tim's annual trip to the Television Critics Association press tour

The real annoyance is the idea, perpetuated by "American Idol," that you have a contest of some sort on one night, then come back the next night for the "results" show. How about, instead, a bunch of "stars" actually do a real TV show, you know, with acting? There will be writing, a plot, various performances, etc. Then the next night they can all come back out and America can vote on how they did. "I thought the addition of Ana Lucia to 'Lost' was particularly heinous. She sucks." Or, "I'm not sure the dream sequence finale on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' was up to par. How about a do-over — and don't take 16 months to get it on the air this time."


A brilliant sitcom is a freak accident. The magic in a hit is in the casting.
        - commenting as "Seinfeld" ends

There are more laughs in the tossed-off, catch-the-subtle-joke-if-you-can lines of Malcolm's geeky school friends, who aren't even main characters, than an entire season of "3rd Rock From the Sun."
        - Tim praises "Malcolm in the Middle"

If for some reason ESPN went off the air -- hey, maybe even for a couple of hours -- I might physically break down and cry. Day in and day out, show after show, what we get served to us as viewers is nothing short of brilliant.
        - Tim likes ESPN

There is a mood in "Wonderfalls" that evokes the best of multilayered television series, from "Northern Exposure" to the good years of "Ally McBeal, " straight through, naturally, to "Malcolm in the Middle." But despite being peopled with well-drawn characters and smart, audaciously careening scripts that induce bursts of laughter, "Wonderfalls" gives us television's - at least network television's - coolest female. Jaye is likable - lovable, even, helped in no small degree by Caroline Dhavernas being beautiful without being stunning, a woman whose smirk is as sexy as someone else's curves.
        - Tim's review of "Wonderfalls"

You'd think that finally getting an Emmy for a sitcom would unleash the hounds of hype. But instead, it's as if "Arrested Development" has been banished to some dank promotional hole, as if it had slaughtered the cast of "North Shore" and Fox is protecting it from extradition.
        - from "Too Smart To Make It"

If you can't be great, there's no shame in being good.
        - from his review of by the numbers "Numbers"

Popularity isn't always good for creativity. Audiences loved these series to death. But most people don't watch TV critically. They watch to be entertained, to be transported out of their awful work environments and their numb interpersonal odysseys. There is a clock on creativity and even television's finest writers can't sustain prolonged levels of brilliance.
        - as "NYPD Blue" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" come to a close

Is "Deadwood" the best show on television? "Deadwood" — despite that nagging, beautifully corrupt sense of Shakespeare — is utterly original, like nothing else on TV. This is a television series playing in its own stratosphere, defined by genius all around it.
        - writing in the summer of 2005

Shakespeare in the mud.
        - Tim's one line description of Deadwood

In Deadwood they use 20 words when five would be fine. And if those 20 don't get the point across, they say "c**ksucker".

If everybody loved "The Office" and "Arrested Development," then who among us could still be smugly assured of our own impeccable taste? Exactly. That's why the networks created family sitcoms. See, the beauty of a family sitcom is that if it's halfway decent, then it has achieved near-miracle status. It's incredibly hard to make an educated, discerning adult laugh out loud while also trying to keep Muffy and young Billy from leaving the living room.

That "The West Wing" is a hit is so stupendously illogical as to knock reason on its fat backside. A show about politics and the presidency in such a jaded world is one thing, but that's not even the head-slapper of why millions watch. This is: There's way too much talking. "The West Wing" is like AM radio on "seek." Yak yak yak. And yet, there is a reason to watch people walk and talk at a frantic pace through the corridors of power. The writing is great. Actually, for television, it's brilliant. For years, "NYPD Blue" and "ER" dominated not because guns went off or gurneys were loaded with screaming, bleeding patients. It was the interpersonal relationships, as conveyed most often in quiet, intimate moments or emotionally raw exchanges.

It's folly for a critic to get all mopey about brilliant series that never got out of the teens, much less hit the century mark. If every show were "The Sopranos" or "Seinfeld," well, where would the joy be in that? Those shows only feel welcome, like the sinewy arms of a rescuing angel, if you've had to endure loads and loads of idiocy and the torment of hacks and the brutality of the sitcom's standardized lameness. Keep in mind that there's no shame in a series keeping it short and sweet.

The significance of "The Sopranos" can't be underestimated. Though many people have never seen even one episode — a pay cable channel like HBO is often a luxury — the series has changed the whole of television. First, it made HBO. Secondly, it further legitimized all of cable television as worthy — and with the introduction of subsequent great dramas on HBO, Showtime, FX, etc., it helped change how and what Americans watch. More people began to see cable as having higher quality fare. Expectations rose and — more than coincidentally — dramas on the broadcast channels also got better and significantly more adult. They became smarter and grittier and aesthetically competitive.


There's a lot of bad television that I fall for. The trick is knowing that it's bad, reveling in its obvious lameness and then laughing about it. It's only TV.
        - from Tim's inaugural column for the "San Francisco Examiner"

If I'm going to completely suspend my critical faculties for a series, it's going to feature Jennifer Garner running around in miniskirts blowing stuff up.
        - from his review of "Alias"

It's pretty hard to go wrong with a sitcom starring Heather Graham. After all, if the jokes fall flat, she's still standing there.
        - from his review of "Emily's Reasons Why Not"

What other dramatic television series - one that takes itself seriously, anyway - has so many holes in it? Plausibility is that thing you're supposed to forget about while watching the relentless action on "24." Holes in the plot? Holes in the logic? Holes big enough to drive the Plausibility Train through? Yep, that's "24." And it's back this Sunday with a two-hour blast of adrenaline, pretty much the only reason left to watch.
        - from his review of "24"

There's a misguided belief that somehow critics find it easier to write negative rather than positive reviews. That the sheer weight of their disgust and disappointment, fury and bitterness will somehow produce words that float out effortlessly. Those people haven't had to sit through three UPN sitcoms.
        - Tim is "Running out of synonyms for 'bad'"

"Titans" was an Aaron Spelling soap on NBC that was so incredibly bad, 200 TV critics sat in a room laughing hysterically at the trailer, which wasn't supposed to be funny. Thinking quickly, the cast said it was a spoof. Well, you know what? It wasn't.
       - reviewing "Titans"

Earthquake epic "10.5" presents a choice: Either run screaming or pass the beer and savor a camp classic... it is so phenomenally bad it borders on spoofed genius.
        - reviewing miniseries "10.5"

This series manages to find every hot actress and actor not currently employed in Hollywood and dress them in, well, almost nothing. A whole lot of effort seems to have gone into unearthing every possible cliche needed for a series set in Hawaii, revolving around people with a maximum of 4 percent body fat. There must be bad acting, lots of tans, fast cars, mind-bendingly dumb dialogue, bathing suits in every frame, a whole lot of surfing and, just in general, vapid people smiling and flirting and punching and satisfying other vapid people.
Look, "North Shore" is uncommonly ridiculous. But that's probably the point. Any series that introduces a hot babe, only to trump her two seconds later by introducing another hot babe, only to ratchet up the hotness two seconds later - well, you get the point. Its the kind of series where the first really great looking person you see is likely to end up as the frump or the dork by the end of the episode.
        - from his review of summer season show "North Shore"

Fearing the Federal Communications Commission would censor the pilot episode of this pointlessly racy and incredibly dumb drama, the WB... cut two girls kissing in a bar and one girl unbuttoning her pants for a little personal exploration. That may have made it better for the FCC, but unless the WB censors cut all the acting and, in particular, all the writing, then this series still qualifies as obscenely awful. The sexy material is less sexy than it is transparently manipulative. Had the creators put as much time into the writing as they did in the cheap and easy provocation of young body parts, this might have been just another in a long line of overly earnest WB coming-of-age dramas. As it stands now, censored or not, "The Bedford Diaries" is just woeful.
        - reviewing "The Bedford Diaries"

"Clubhouse" lifts people's spirits and watches dreams come true and lets the pimply teen boy get the hot girl who looks, honestly, as if she's graduating from college next semester. And "Wife Swap" turns the great United States into Britain without the soccer hooligans and dole lovers... "Wife Swap" is educational in the same way getting caught with a hooker is educational
        - from a combined review of both shows entitled "Sugary Good versus Smarmy Evil"

Even a 14-year-old — maybe especially a 14-year-old — knows lameness when he sees it.
        - Tim, reviewing "The Winner"

The waste bin of TV history is jammed with shows that got exactly one element right. That's the byproduct of a writer conceiving a character (and not much else) backed by a network wowed by one-sentence story pitches (and not much else).

6.1 million people watched "National Bingo Night." In an effort to cull the herd, government forces backed by Nielsen research are now raiding those homes and locking away the inhabitants. Democracy has a price, people.

There are all kinds of sadness in "Women's Murder Club," the new ABC series set in San Francisco that starts tonight. For instance, there's a kind of choking-back-the-tears sadness after watching the pilot, that hour being tragically lost forever... Most shows on Friday nights are aimed at women. And, yes, if you're a woman, that should make you sad.


And then it happened. That... that vision. Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher in "Murder She Wrote." Surely you heard the scream? That self-righteous prune. Haunting me in a foreign country. My nemesis. Never mind the fact that she needs to be held accountable for the blood bath that was Cabot Cove, I loathed that show.
        - Tim makes the mistake of watching TV on his Honeymoon in Italy

Angela Lansbury will return in an updated "Murder, She Wrote." This time her bloodbath reign of terror is exposed and she's electrocuted in Texas during sweeps.
        - from Tim's column on April 1 1998

Angela Lansbury is a murdering demon. How many times must we say that one day, in a just world, she will pay for the bloodbath that is Cabot Cove?

There's really no good way to put this, so here goes: Anybody else think that Tara Lipinski is an agent of Satan? It may go against prevailing sentiment, but Lipinski certainly seems like a replicant, not a human. And that little girl has the touch of evil, people. You know it.
        - from a column about the Winter Olympics

Right now in Hollywood, the big Emmy push is on. In the trade magazines there are desperate, For-your-consideration" ads everywhere. A favorite: "For your consideration: Jesse." A full seven minutes later, we were off the floor, wiping away the tears, but that sharp pain still lingers in the side.
Just when we thought it was safe, the horror strikes us out of nowhere: "For your consideration: Tony Danza, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series." We only wish that were a joke.
Like you couldn't see this coming: Bring me the head of Tony Danza.
        - The Emmy's loom in June 1999

Apparently all the desperate pleas and wails of agony went unanswered by the Lords of Hollywood. Against the wishes of billions and the better judgment of the Taste Police, Tony Danza has a new show. "The Tony Danza Show" is frighteningly bad. Not offensive like "Dellaventura" or even despicable like "Hitz," but scary bad. That's because it has all the elements to survive until syndication - single, loveable family man, mirthless humor, annoying laugh track, sugary and sassy kids, safe plotlines, anesthetic overall tone. It is a family show with a paper-thin premise. Danza is separated from his wife - so the smartest person isn't even in the cast.

You don't make a lot of friends as a critic. That's not the point of your job in the first place, as any good critic will tell you, but every so often you're reminded that people loathe you... we have always had an honest exchange of opinion, though it sometimes felt that if he could kill me and get away with it, he might consider it. In this, Jeff Zucker (of NBC) was no different from other network executives.
        - Tim attempts "Making Nice With People Who Hate You"


The ability to actually "judge" Amy Brenneman, of "Judging Amy," any way we see fit. Even if that involves fine, frilly, girly underwear.
        - Tim makes a Christmas Wish List

To cute little Jonathan Lipnicki, whose show "Meego" was canceled: A cute little elf's hat. Now make me some toys, elf boy!

Sometimes, several pints of Guinness into the dark night, we get this vision: Jerry Springer in a wrestling ring with Judge Judy.

Because tonight is New Year's Eve, you might think that this will be a column about our resolutions. How we might better ourselves in the coming Collective 12. You know, like being nicer to Katie Couric or remembering to take our Xanax or dropping our fascination with ALF and Martha Stewart or our relentless pursuit of justice in the cases of Tony Danza and Angela Lansbury. You'd be wrong...
To the writers of "24." There are a lot of episodes left. Can we stop having Kiefer Sutherland say, "You've got to trust me on this one." People are creating drinking games around this and passing out before the first half hour.
        - from "What TV should do for 2002"

CBS News President Andrew Heyward never backed down from a good argument, got off a lot of sharp shots even when backpedaling and would say, when the argument reached a standoff, "Reasonable people can disagree." Most interpersonal debating these days — whether face-to-face, through e-mail or in the press — is coarse and childish. Reasonable never plays much part in it.

We're going where the reruns are brilliant and there are no commercials.

This post brought to you by Diet Coke. Which I'm living on, essentially.
        - Tim, halfway through a "Deathmarch with Cocktails"

Ah, reality. Strangely enough, I missed you.
        - Tim, returning home after a "Deathmarch with Cocktails"

I'd rather be at the pool knocking back an Anchor Steam than sitting in front of my TV yelling at Jack Bauer.
        -  Tim, on why he's given up on 24

Our long crush on Lauren Graham can still be found burning in the embers. And the music was mostly great. It's hard to keep a great thing going. Yet another truism of television. So the lights go out in Stars Hollow.
        - Tim, on the cancellation of the Gilmore Girls


The television business is just that -- a business. If shows don't get ratings, they die. If shows skew older than the network wants, they die. If shows cost more than they're worth, they die. If a network wants to go in a different direction -- wink, wink, watch me blink -- then it will go in a different direction and your show will die, outraged Internet bloggers be damned. It hurts a lot to think about it because viewers invest so much in shows and characters.

You really want to know what's going on in the world of television in the foreseeable future? This is a joke, right? If not, here's an interesting crib-notes take on what to expect: January: bad midseason shows. February: lousy sweeps period that interrupts bad midseason shows. March: the return of original bad midseason shows. April: the cancellation of bad midseason shows, to be replaced by even worse midseason shows. May: an even worse sweeps period that conveniently lets us forget the very worst midseason shows just as our beloved series close out the season with annoying cliffhangers and disappointing finales.
        - Tim sums up the American TV cycle

Though networks understand, in theory, that patience sometimes pays off ("Hill Street Blues," "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" among the most famous examples), in practice, they see a show tank in 15-minute increments. As viewers flee, it hurts the show following it. A couple of weeks of that and a whole night could be irrevocably lost, so instead of trying to fix the problem, they patch it with something they know will work.
        - Tim, on why networks are ruthless with ratings

When the networks unveil fall lineups, it’s the opening hand in a nerve-racking game of high-stakes poker.
        - Tim, explaining how networks program their schedule

People only have so many hours they can devote to television in a given week. Sacrifices need to be made. A perfect recent example of that can be found in "Joan of Arcadia." From hit to miss in two seasons, "Joan" was canceled by CBS, which stunned its die-hard fans, who are upset about it to this day. But the trouble that harms a series is never caused by the die-hards; it rests with viewers who have picked that show as their fourth or fifth favorite. Once they decide the party is over, it's really over.
        - On how promising shows get cancelled

They are stacking up the dead in TV Land. It's that time of year. All the promise of September turns blood red in November... Consider that most seasons are failures if the cancellation rate for new shows is roughly 80 percent.  Our long national nightmare, also known as the fall launch, is finally over. We are running through the city like English soccer hooligans... we now return to our regularly scheduled nude Guinness hooligan sprint.
        - from "It's culling time"

It's season finale time on television, and that can only mean one thing: A whole bunch of people are going to die. Come May, TV fans don't like kisses. They don't like subtlety. They like cliff-hangers — nay, they demand cliff-hangers. But mostly they want to be stunned into disbelief. They want to eagerly await September's return of the story line. Never mind the idea of diminishing returns and predictability — you can't kill someone every season! — the audience demands action.
        - from "As the season ends, bodies everywhere"

Every year there's some persistent, horrible cliche that pops up and festers as television executives, actors, writers, directors and producers talk about their craft and this business. It's like they got debriefed prior to meeting TV critics, arrived, then spewed. Whether it's "organic" or "at the end of the day" or something equally heinous and vague, it gets said. This year, like a plague, it's "going forward."
        - from "Going forward fearlessly into UPN, the WB"

It was a sad, fruitless year in Hollywood. The networks had tried pretty much everything. Not even that old standby — Tony Danza — could win over the viewers. There were police shows, there were multicultural comedies, there were fantasies and the "Love Boat' was relaunched. The networks were beside themselves. They let Tom Arnold have a TV show — again. And that historic crutch of the truly uncreative - the cute kid — was tried and failed... Viewers were tuning out in droves — some even read books out of desperation.
        - Tim assesses the 1997-98 season

Where are the Irish on TV these days? Remember the glory decades of all the offensive stereotypes? The drunk. The priest. The pregnant daughter. The family of cops. The drunk. The cross-bearing mother. The brawling drunk. The sprawling multigenerational family, everyone blue collar but the star, who went on to become a doctor and moved out of Hell's Kitchen and left the cursed clan behind - to drink? Ah, those were the years.
        - from a column on Saint Patrick's Day

In this era of political correctness that has virtually paralyzed television, let's not forget that the two most abused ethnicities are the Italians and the Irish. Always have been. Because TV thinks they're fair game and, well, neither puts up much of a fight about it.
        - reviewing "Costello"

A 10th anniversary study by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has found that fewer than 2 percent of all "series regulars" on the schedule this fall are gay. The gay sidekick definitely seems to have peaked. Our trend spotting of the new series points to a new option: the hot Latina friend.
        - previewing the 2005 fall season

This isn't politics anymore, Al. It's television. And it's a lot harder to win the popular vote in this medium. That's almost as impressive as inventing the Internet. And listen, about that Internet thing — conservatives, Republicans and right-wingers, or all three species — turned that smear into pop-culture fact.
        - after Al Gore buys a cable news channel

Not as fun as "Survivor" but essential to the Republic.
        - reviewing the 2004 Presidential Debates

Has anyone told the Fox News anchors that "Mad Men" was not a documentary of how America should be?

As 24-hour cable channels documented the fall of New Orleans from a major American city to what looked like, from helicopters and roaming cameras, a Third World country, all viewers out of the area could do was stare in near disbelief. The slow dissolve into chaos became television's most depressing soap opera. From Monday's reporters-in-the-rain faux machismo to the dawn of the disaster on Tuesday and Wednesday, it was a televised transformation like none other. What could become this country's biggest natural disaster unfurled in slower and slower increments on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and elsewhere. Monday's rote coverage of Katrina became Tuesday's stunning flood scenes and Wednesday's widespread panic.
        - commenting on the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005

What's easier to explain: chaos theory, black holes, our current tax code or the tangled web that is poor PBS?
        - commenting as Congress plans to cut funding to PBS

Television has entered Bizarro World: and not because it will air a series about swapping wives in the fall... It's your standard aeronautical pigs and "snow day" in Hades scenario.
       - the 2004 fall season surprises Tim

Saturday night is for romance, either real or imagined.
        - on the scheduling of romcom "Cupid"

It's a total teen takeover. The fall season will make you think that "Logan's Run" wasn't just a movie about killing people who'd turned 30 - it's actually taking place in Hollywood... Even when a show isn't built around teens, the actors look like teens. The beauty of this, of course, is that no teens on television ever act like teens. They are always preposterously cool and magnificently well-spoken. In fact, they are much more mature than their twentysomething "Felicity" counterparts. To be a teen on television is to act 35, be masterful at emotional situations and glorious one-line put-downs, dress resplendently, look gorgeous and be surrounded by dumb parents who just don't get it, and Homer Simpson-like teachers.
        - August 1999 is a "Teenage Wasteland"

The WB is the only network previously operating on the "Logan's Run" principle, and now, staggered by the fleeting allegiances of youth, it wants to make amends. It's sorry that it treated old people -- you know, 35 -- as if they were embarrassed to be in the same room.
        - from "The WB Wants to Grow Up"

The WB pretty much came out and said that ratings took a hit when "Felicity" star Keri Russell cut her curly, signature locks. We knew fans were fickle, but when you start dealing with teen viewers it gets pretty cutthroat. God forbid Dawson get a pimple or his "Dawson's Creek" pals may drown him.

MTV isn't even ashamed anymore that it doesn't play videos. Uh, that 'M' means music. A couple of videos would be great. Oh, that would be giving in to us. Forget it.

Television dominates our lives, our culture. Many of us were raised on it. The British may have created the Teletubbies, but we are the Teletubbies.

American television doesn't do the British thing very well. We mess up a lot of their good shows as we Americanize them (read: dumbing them down with the force of a club on a baby seal).

We've been raised on so many fine British dramas that anything remotely resembling high historical art must be done by the Brits, no?
        - from a review of Anglo-American production "Rome"

The Brits have a love affair with detectives who are dedicated — to the detriment of the characters' livers and psyches — to the job ("Prime Suspect's" Helen Mirren being, well, a prime example). Jericho is no different.
        - reviewing "Jericho"

When it comes to our cousins the British, we Americans always have had some difficulty with the humor thing. Their approach to hilarity is generally sillier or darker or drier or more subtle. They've never really gone in for that fat husband/hot wife thing that seems to drive the middle of this country into fits of hilarity.
        - reviewing "Little Britain"

What the Brits do especially well, which we haven't quite managed, is to calculate the exact number of episodes it will take to maximize the combined genius of writers, actors and directors. Apparently, they've settled on six. On these shores, we know that very few series can pull off 22 consecutively remarkable episodes despite networks that will die trying. And so, factoring in differences in culture and the relative sizes of our entertainment industries, let's say the ideal American length should be 12, like on HBO. Anyway, the point is, we supersize everything, including our entertainment. And mostly that's a mistake. The Brits, on the other hand, know how to get in and out in six episodes without any wasted steps, padded episodes or creative lulls.
        - reviewing BBC show "Rocket Man"

If you're wondering why so many serials are invading the schedule, it's more complicated than the copycat nature of the industry. Though serial dramas repeat poorly in comparison to something like "Law & Order," they do sell well as DVD sets. But one reason not talked about much is that the networks are trying to take your TiVo out of the equation. If networks create "appointment television" where new developments are hotly anticipated and talked over around the theoretical water cooler, viewers will be less likely to record an episode than watch it live. That helps loyalty and, if you're a Nielsen family, it helps ratings. But the gamble the broadcast networks are taking is that you have the time and the devotion to spare. History suggests otherwise.
        - Tim, on the rise of shows like Lost and 24


John Carman was a TV Critic at the Chronicle from 1986 to 2002. Here are some of the best quotes from his 3,500 columns:

Carman's First Law of Television: The third-rated network always has the best shows, because in its desperation it begins to take chances.

The spectrum had become crowded. The audience was dispersed, and possibly confused. From now on, the TV critic's slickest parlor trick wouldn't be to rip the reprehensible; it would be to discover buried treasure... If an avalanche of programming has increased the value of a TV critic, is full respectability sure to follow?
        - on the effect of quality cable TV shows on the role of TV critics

With the close of the 1998-99 season Wednesday night, the TV broadcast networks have passed two more milestones in their long descent. In the '60s, it seemed as if the entire nation was glued to big ticket network shows like "Gunsmoke"... This season, for the first time, no TV series averaged a 30 percent share of the viewing audience. ER, the top-rated series, finished the season with a 29 share. Last season, ER averaged a 34 share. In the heyday of network TV, through the 1970s, a 30 share was considered a benchmark. A series that could not command a 30 share was marked, unofficially, for early cancellation. As recently as the mid-1980s, the phenomenally popular "Cosby Show" regularly rattled off weekly shares between 50 and 60. The fragmentation of the television audience, thanks to the spread of cable availability and proliferation of cable channels, has diluted network ratings and shares.
- on the decline of the traditional networks

You've got to love NBC. Two seasons ago, when its Nielsen ratings were lagging, NBC unilaterally declared that the TV season didn't end in April and would continue for 52 weeks.
        - on the 1995 TV season

The V-chip provision passed by the House last week, and earlier by the Senate, essentially imposes on us a nonexistent television technology, which is to perform a task that may be both impossible and unconstitutional, by an as-yet undetermined means... creating job openings for national television commissioners willing to watch and rate 3,700 hours of TV programming a day. The legislation doesn't require you to activate your V-chip. But enough people will to scare the bejesus out of advertisers and guarantee the world's blandest television.

"Sabrina The Teenage Witch" makes TV's past 30 years vanish. Shazam, it's the 1960s again. American life may have been flying out of control and at warp speed, but TV seemed dulled by Novocain. History gave us Vietnam, political assassinations and every imaginable stripe of domestic conflict. TV replied with "Bewitched", "I Dream of Jeannie", "Gilligan's Island", "F Troop" and "Hogan's Heroes". Sabrina is just as hermetically sealed from reality. It exists only according to its own benign, timeless logic.

I figure it'll happen this way. A few centuries from now, intelligent life forms out in space will intercept a Henny Youngman joke that's been riding the cosmos on a faint TV signal. They decode it and find it grossly primitive. But it might be a standard greeting, like "Hey, there!" So they duplicate the message and beam it back toward Earth.
Excited scientists on Earth pluck the joke from space after a few more centuries. They ponder it, debate it, then finally shrug and decide that whoever or whatever sent such gibberish -- "Take my wife, please..."? -- has nothing of value to offer. Another failure to communicate.
        - reviewing "Deep Space"

A 2 1/2-hour PBS documentary tonight shows that the people of ancient Athens lived large.
They built a fleet and an empire. They made war. They wept rivers at the theater and cheered lustily at athletic events. They invented democracy and loved debating politics. They were adept at astronomy, architecture, mathematics, sculpture and philosophy.
I'm guessing they could throw a pretty good party, too. "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization" does a fine job of recapturing all this. Well, not so much on the parties.
        - reviewing "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization"

The right kind of English tourist is unbeatable. He is knowledgeable, flexible, respectful of all cultures and unfailingly polite. The wrong sort of English tourist is apt to start a soccer riot or, in years past, plant a Union Jack and claim some exotic land in the name of the queen, to the confusion and consternation of the natives. Michael Wood is the right sort. His repertoire includes a willingness to eat anything and sleep anywhere... Wood is a tourist of history. You might have seen him last retracing the footsteps of Alexander the Great, with almost too much enthusiasm. Now the BBC star is back on PBS, for "Conquistadors."
        - reviewing "Conquistadors"

It's a tribute to the documentary's sense of drama as the battle unfolds in archival footage that, against the surety of history, you'll probably still find yourself hoping the Allies will regroup and repulse the German offensive.
        - reviewing "Battlefield: Battle for France"

"America 1900" isn't ostensibly about America in 2000, or 1998, yet ultimately it's exactly about that. The viewer can't help comparing the century's bookend years, knowing that the years between constituted the American century. Democracy has a broader reach today. Workers are safer and more empowered, technology more advanced. But wouldn't it be glorious to feel that full innocent flush of faith in the future, without the countervailing poison of cynicism?
        - reviewing "America 1900"

You can't make a commercial movie out of slow suffering and death among men who were blistered by the Georgia sun, pelted by rain and deprived of vegetable nutrients. Nor does it help that the characters in the miniseries speak to each other and emote to us in the voices and sensibilities of our own century. They never seem to belong in the 1860s.
        - reviewing Civil War prison drama "Andersonville"

"The years since 1944 intrude too heavily on the attitude and even the language of "When Trumpets Fade," an otherwise impressive World War II movie debuting at 9 p.m. tomorrow on HBO. Maybe the first hint that something is chronologically amiss is the use of "Over There," a popular World War I song, in the opening credits. Then comes the film itself, with an emotional center of gravity that seems to lie somewhere between Korea and Vietnam.
        - reviewing "When Trumpets Fade"

Anyone who has a feel for English history, and many who nurse feelings of being born too late, should lap up the period details in "The Cazalets." It's a BBC production, which means careful attention has been paid to those details. For one thing, in BBC period dramas, all the characters actually seem to have lived in their costume department clothes.
        - reviewing 1930s drama "The Cazalets"

On "The Simpsons" perennial villain Sideshow Bob escaped from prison and threatened to nuke Springfield unless the city banished television... Dramatic high point of the CBS miniseries "Nothing Lasts Forever"? A squirming Brooke Shields tied to bedposts with silk scarves... "Melrose Place" promised, and delivered, an episode incorporating all seven deadly sins.
        - reviewing the November 1995 sweeps

It happened in the November sweeps... On "Family Feud", five Playboy Playmates took on five World Wrestling Federation wrestlers in a special "Beauty and the Beasts" battle of the brains. Not even close: WWF 427, Playboy 77... Brawling dwarfs on "Jerry Springer"... Niles Crane examining the Thanksgiving turkey on "Frasier": "If you're wondering, this bird appears to have died of a massive head trauma."
        - reviewing the November 1999 sweeps

John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach star in a "Dukes of Hazzard" reunion movie called "Hazzard in Hollywood". Why? For art's sake, probably.
        - previewing the May 2000 sweeps

Jesus Christ was crucified. Someone tried to shoot President Bartlet on "The West Wing". Donna married David in the series finale of "Beverly Hills, 90210". An alien terrorized Deck 12 on "Star Trek: Voyager". Cannibals invaded PBS.  Just another Wednesday night on TV... Fox determined that 11-year-old Michael Vezierny of Boca Raton, Fla., is "the Smartest Kid in America" because he knew that France used to be called Gaul. On "Frasier," Niles told Daphne that he loves her. Took him seven years and 21 sweeps months.
        - reviewing the May 2000 sweeps

It Must Be TV, because nothing else could be this bad. NBC's new approach to big sweeps programming was a promotional blitz to convince the public that a sow's ear of a miniseries, "Pandora's Clock", was actually something special. And it was, in a sense: especially awful. Meanwhile, the leading network's movies-of-the-week were more exploitative than ever. Typically, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was on the run from a psychopathic killer. Smart viewers were pulling for the killers.
        - reviewing the 1996 TV season

CBS must hold "Journey to Mars" in the highest regard, because the movie will be on tonight when everyone in the country is watching TV. Everyone will be watching the Oscars on ABC, except for three or four Martian-movie aficionados...
        - previewing the 1996 Oscars

It's not a condition of citizenship that you watch the Super Bowl, though there probably are ultrasecret government files on so-called Americans who don't.
        - previewing the 1998 Superbowl

While network audiences continue to decline, the list of things the big networks don't want to do keeps expanding. To date, the roster would seem to include cultural programs, educational programs for children, big miniseries, political convention coverage and minority programming.
        - reviewing the launch of WEB and UPN networks

Every time "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" airs on ABC, a fairy dies. Or a sitcom writer misses a payday, or some poor actor goes back to flipping burgers. How they hate that show. It's the devil. It sucks jobs from Hollywood. It devours the flesh of weak competing shows on CBS, NBC and Fox.
        - on the success of then quiz show (January 2000)

It was a reasonable decision. NBC put its best surviving comedy, "Frasier", into the planet's best TV time slot, 9 p.m. Thursday. Since then, life has been one rocky gravel pit. Tuesdays imploded without Frasier, and then everyone seemed to notice that Frasier wasn't the deft farce it used to be.
        - writing in January 1999

"Right now you could be reading a magazine. Listening to a symphony. Visiting a museum. Or even exercising. But you're not. You're watching TV. Thanks."
        - An ABC ad from 1997 prompts John to declare "ABC stands for Attack Brain Cells"

Stop me if you've seen this one:
A widowed doctor moves his family from New York City to a small town in Colorado.
A husband and wife team up as private eyes.
Doctors fight to save lives in a big-city teaching hospital.
A 14-year-old girl discovers she's endowed with paranormal powers.
And of course undercover cops, by the boatload, fight crime.
These, according to the trade magazine Electronic Media, are new network series in development. They could just as easily be old network shows long in the dustbin.
        - previewing the 2002 TV season

The Democratic candidate for president is the governor of a mid-American state. He's an idealist. One ideal, it seems, is to sleep with every woman he meets, except his own daughter.
        - reviewing "Running Mates"

If anyone is left unoffended by "The Second Civil War", it's surely an oversight... Set in the near future, the broad satiric comedy is about a nation overrun by immigrants. Newly arrived Mexicans trash the Alamo. Chinese immigrants run Rhode Island. The mayor of Los Angeles can't, or won't, speak English, and is attacked by black snipers intent on preventing a Hispanic takeover. Members of Congress shout at each other through translators, though a Sikh congressman from Louisiana sports a redneck accent.
        - reviewing "The Second Civil War"

Start to finish, there's plenty to watch, including a couple of pitched battles. But the spectacle never penetrates deeper than your eye sockets.
        - reviewing "Jason and the Argonauts"

I'll admit to a certain weakness for this sort of nonsense... "Creature" has just the elements for me: Caribbean island, salty sea spray, ramshackle boats, a deadly monster, a touch of voodoo, and several actresses in halter tops. It just doesn't get any better than that, unless of course the halter tops become too confining. For the first two hours, it hums along entertainingly. People start getting chomped...
        - reviewing "Peter Benchley's Creature"

The movie begins with a nighttime beach party, where drums are pounding and an attractive blond reveler says to her attractive brunet friend, "C'mon, let's take a walk." In marine monster movie language, that translates into, "C'mon, let's go play in the waves until some scaly thing grabs us and pulls us to our horrible deaths."
        - reviewing "Gargantua"

The worst actor in the movie is Vancouver, the Canadian city that helplessly underplays the role of San Francisco. Vancouver has failed in the same role more than once.
        - reviewing "Dr Who: The Movie"

I've got it, we'll televise a beauty pageant and let the contestants pick their own winner, Darwin style. One contestant from each state. They're all locked in a dormitory, see, and they do talent shows, and swimsuit competitions, and world peace platitude contests, and are tempted with chocolates, and form nasty alliances. Every week, five of them get booted out. The eventual winner gets a million dollars, a crown, a sash, a ton of endorsement deals and probably more notoriety than Miss America. Unsavory? Maybe, but it's practically "Masterpiece Theatre" compared with "Chains of Love", the reality show NBC is pursuing.
        - from "Networks Have A Bizarre Grip On Reality"

It's a bit like watching a "Columbo" episode from the viewpoint of the killer -- experiencing his cycles of tension and relief as the hunt goes hot and cold.
        - reviewing "A Slight Case of Murder"

Jessica Fletcher of "Murder, She Wrote" never ran out of nieces, nephews and dear old friends to visit. She may as well have arrived at their doorsteps wearing a black hooded robe and carrying a scythe. Someone was about to be quite dead. By actual calculation, the MSW body count hit 286 over 264 episodes in 12 years. There were 64 murders in the tiny town of Cabot Cove alone, limiting growth and surely playing havoc with the highway sign listing the village's population.
        - reviewing the finale of "Murder, She Wrote"

The premiere of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" tonight on the WB network has me wondering. If Buffy the vampire slayer chanced to meet Sabrina the teenage witch, would she drive a stake through her heart?

I believe the preferred manner of doing business is to induce members of the audience to laugh until they cry. "Titans" works it backward. You can only weep for so long about how awful this show is, and then you give it up to the giggles... With Titans, Spelling's apparent objective is to dumb down "Dynasty". Sort of like adding caffeine tablets to espresso.

You're either very smart or extremely dorky if you're going to spend New Year's Eve at home in front of the TV. Smart because you can't wear only boxer shorts at most New Year's Eve parties, and in some circles it's considered gauche to strap a fridge to your back as you make the party rounds. So staying home makes some sense... As for dorky, your social skills may need exploratory surgery if you're actually looking forward to New Year's Eve with Dick Clark.

They are unmarried and often unhappy. They have media jobs and live in apartment buildings in big cities east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason- Dixon Line. If the U.S. Census Bureau provided a composite of the foot soldiers of the 1995-96 television season, that would be the picture. The characters populating TV's 42 new prime-time series also tend to get by with a little help from their friends. Nearly everyone this fall is single or divorced, and on the hunt for love.

[These quotes were reported by John at TV Press Tours over the years]

"First of all, it's very important to me that I eventually own my own jet."
        - film director Barry Sonnenfeld on wanting a hit TV series

"I've been working for 10 years, and there's a need to be considerably more famous than I am."
        - actor Adam Goldberg, on why he accepted a role on "The Street"

"The job of president of PBS is a lion tamer without a whip."
        - Bill Moyers

"At the least, a TV show should leave viewers feeling that they wanted to go on living."
        - Brandon Tartikoff, NBC executive, explaining the cancellation of downbeat shows

"The Miller Lite commercial with Ken Stabler is really the highlight of my career because they said if you do this in one or two takes, we'll be out of here. Stabler figured out if we do it in 10 or 12 takes, we'll have a nice buzz going."
        - Dan Fouts, at the 2000 TV Press Tour

"It's not often that the prey is happy to see the vultures."
        - William Collins, ex-Big Brother contestant, greeting reporters

"If the Irish are so widely spread throughout society, why did you choose to have a priest, a cop, a drunk and a union organizer?"
        - question to John Wells, producer of Irish-American TV drama "Trinity", about an Irish family.

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