The fall TV crush is winding down

The fall TV crush is winding down, and after filing 30 reviews in September, it’s fair to say that volume of criticism probably isn’t healthy for anybody.

There is, however, some method behind the madness.

Having one critic tackle every new network series — a challenge Howard Rosenberg used to undertake, with remarkable grace and good humor, at the Los Angeles Times — at least fosters a sense of continuity. Agree or disagree, panned or praised, you have some context about the writer’s likes and dislikes.

There’s value for the critic, too, in watching everything, if only because doing so provides helpful perspective. The pressure now is often to make sweeping pronouncements — “best,” “most exciting,” “horrible” — in order to stand out in the braying online space. More nuanced phrasing (“promising,” “not completely satisfying”) is generally more accurate — especially when assessing pilots — but seriously, who’s going to link to that?

The main issue for journalists is “normal people” don’t feel compelled to sample each show, instead picking out a few programs that interest them and ignoring the rest. The tradeoff for a well-rounded view, then, is reviewers putting themselves inherently out of step with the public they purport to serve.

As for that public, the modern era has also made criticism a two-way street in the ability to convey instant feedback. Most messages come from folks eager to call you a moron — hitting “send” without much reflection, and even less interest in spelling — but occasionally the interaction is very thoughtful, and once in a while someone passes along a compliment.

Even writing for a business trade like Variety, negative comments usually break down into three categories: Die-hard fans, eager to defend something they loved (or less frequently level accusations of a payoff for liking something they didn’t); people directly connected to a show; and conservatives with an abiding hatred and distrust of the media, who assume covering Hollywood automatically makes you a Marxist.

While customer service dictates replying to everyone, in the interest of time (the better to do things like, oh, write 30 reviews), I’ve crafted the following form letter, which can be easily tailored to each of these constituencies.

Dear A) TV show enthusiast; B) Producer, network executive or agent; C) Person filling out a form on a right-wing website:

While I appreciate your assertion that I A) am fat and ugly; B) really need to get over my bitterness about not dating more in high school; C) am spiritually dead inside, please rest assured that played no role in formulating my review.

I am sorry you think I A) write like a third-grader; B) have a personal vendetta against you; C) am godless and hate America. Please remember reactions to TV shows are highly subjective, so I hope we can respectfully agree to disagree.

Although you say A) everyone in your favorite chat room; B) critics you respect, along with your spouse, mother and/or talent representatives; C) Rush Limbaugh and somebody on the Drudge Report completely validate your opinion, frankly, such anecdotal evidence doesn’t hold much sway.

Nevertheless, thank you for taking the time to A) suggest the name of a remedial writing course; B) copy my editor, publisher and everyone I have ever worked with regarding what a jackass I am; C) quote passages of scripture.

For what it’s worth, my experience is that people like me better when A) I agree with them; B) they are several years removed from their jobs running a network or studio; C) they actually read the review in which I supposedly offended them. And if it’s any consolation, my opinions A)sometimes evolve and soften over time; B) probably won’t cost you any viewers; C) are not part of a Communist conspiracy.

At any rate, I wish you the best of luck with your A) online “Save our show” campaign; B) future career endeavors; C) gun collection.

Thanks again for taking the time to write. And for your sake, I truly hope A) your favorite program doesn’t get canceled; B) I like your next project better; C) the Rapture happens just the way you say it will.

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