Tom Shales: With More Shows Out There, TV Critics Are Needed Now More Than Ever

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Not believe in TV critics? Why, Virginia, you might as well not believe there are fairies dancing on the lawn. Then again, if you see TV critics dancing on the lawn, you might want to talk to somebody about it.

Sadly, there are people abroad and afoot in the land who maintain that TV critics are anachronisms, unnecessary luxuries in a fidgety digital age. Unfortunately, some of those people happen to be newspaper editors. At more than just a handful of major and minor papers around the country, the job has simply and callously been abolished. Imagine, critics turned out into the cold with no marketable skills other than complaining.

The irony is (and there has to be an irony), a critic's informed guidance is arguably needed now more than ever -- what with the 500-channel ("and nothin' on") universe having taken over, and considering the fact that Old Man Webber -- you know, the Internut -- has exponentially multiplied viewing choices for global villagers.

What's a viewer to do? Consult a critic, for one thing.

Unlike you, dear reader (and dearer than ever, we might add), critics have seen almost everything. They know if a "new" idea is old, or if a "revolutionary" concept is coming around for the 14th time, or if some bold new television first belongs in an old gold television hearse. There's another reason TV critics have a real role to play: Sooner or later, everything becomes television. Or just goes away. Even the latest hot link on YouTube will have to become television before it really truly absolutely makes an impact on the culture.

Yes, Virginia, more than ever, we need -- Virginia! Put down that gun! Virginia, don't be absurd! Virginia! How can you -- oh, it's a remote. Well, it looked like a gun. You can understand why TV critics are a trifle paranoid right now.

TV critics suffer so that viewers might keep another hour of their lives safe from the equivalent of waterboarding, so that they may hang on to a few hundred little bitty brain cells that might otherwise corrode, and so that each and every viewer has one more person of whom they can say, "He's full of it" and then completely ignore.

Not believe in TV critics? Why, Virginia, you -- Virginia? Virginia? Now where the heck did she go?

-- Tom Shales

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