Brian Lowry, Variety’s resident TV critic and a superhero aficionado hosted a one-hour chat on Reddit on August 18. Here are the best questions (and answers) from the conversation, which included everything from Emmy nominations to binge watching to fanboying at Comic-Con:
What are the TV trends we should look out for over the next year or two? And over the next five?
I think you’ll see a lot more experimentation with closed-ended series, a la “American Horror Story” or “Fargo.” I think the audience has exhibited some appetite for shows that don’t require a multi-year commitment. The challenge then is finding a way to keep the franchises alive, and the risk associated with starting over featuring new leads, stories, etc. And honestly, I think anyone writing about media who says they can see five years ahead is full of it.
Why do you think there is often such a disconnect with professional critics and the movie going public? What are the major benefits or drawbacks to coming out against a “blockbuster.”
As far as coming out against a blockbuster, there aren’t huge drawbacks, other than the angry email. But I’d suggest reading LA Times critic Kenneth Turan’s column about being one of the few film critics not to love “Boyhood.” An interesting piece, and as he notes, ultimately, you can only write what you feel and let the chips fall where they may.
Critics are inherently somewhat out of step with the public. We have to watch (and this goes beyond TV to movies) EVERYTHING. So when you see that much, things that are different tend to jump out at you. And frankly, a lot of people don’t want different. If they liked “Iron Man,” they want “Iron Man 2.” It goes back to Roger Ebert’s point about Coke. If they had to pull the product off the shelves every few years, they’d just bring out another sweet fizzy cola in a red can.
How do you feel about Amazon posting their pilots in batches for viewers to see, and using that feedback to determine what gets series orders? Also: a la “Community,” are there any shows with cult followings that were recently canceled that you think an Amazon or Yahoo!, etc., can/should pick up in order to generate some buzz?
It’s smart. A way to make the audience part of the process — and even invested in it. As for picking up canceled shows, I’d suggest anything with a cult following is going to be looked at. In this age where there’s such a demand for programming, it’s sort of like using every part of the chicken. Why discard it if there’s an audience that’s willing (and this is key) to pay in order to keep getting it?
What drove you to become a critic and what do you feel makes a good critic?
I grew up in LA and had a huge love of movies and TV. I was very influenced by reading Howard Rosenberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic for the Los Angeles Times. He used TV criticism to comment on anything and everything — a real window into the world. To me, a good critic is entertaining, and maybe helps you think about something in a way you might not have otherwise. They review in context. Opinions are subjective, so you don’t have to — and won’t — always agree with them. And they should be fair, both to the reader and the people about whom they’re writing.
How do you feel about binge watching and shows on Netflix being Emmy nominated?
I certainly think the Netflix shows are legitimate contenders; they’re TV shows. As for binge watching, I’m a little torn about that. While I understand the idea, I don’t think everything lends itself to being consumed like an all-you-can-eat buffet. And the pressure to watch a lot fast or risk having someone spoil it for you can be problematic, especially in the social media age.
Are there any new television shows coming out within the next year that you are looking forward to? Is there any particular TV show currently airing that you feel is underrated?
I try not to get too excited about things I haven’t seen. I watched the premiere of Showtime’s “The Affair,” which is quite good, so I’ll put that on your radar. As far as underrated, not sure that’s quite the right word, because everyone who watches it loves it, but “Rectify” is certainly under-watched given how good it is.
Anybody with a Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook account feels entitled to write about what they think on any TV show nowadays … do you feel writing about television has evolved in the past decade or so ? If so, how ? What do you think professional critics offer that is different ?
I think there’s a huge leveling effect. There’s also, frankly, a lot of anger — if you disagree with someone about a show they love, some of them take it as a personal affront. That’s sort of a byproduct of our politics — everyone can go to a network/website where they find voices that agree with them.
What was your worst experience with a reader ?
Threatening to kill me would probably top that list. That was quite a long time ago, thankfully. But it’s not uncommon for someone to say “I disagree with your review. You should resign.” I keep hoping some of them will raise a fund to retire me in luxury.
What trends in reality television do you see as driving the genre for the next few years?
Well, they’ve exhausted a lot of these genres, which is a problem right now. Not sure how many more celeb-reality shows they can trot out. I think there’s probably something to be done with big stunts and a live component, but that also entails risk (good news for insurance companies). And there have been some magic-related shows recently that are OK.
Will HBO have anything decent on in the foreseeable future? I thought “Veep” was very good. The “Silicon Valley” show I liked. “Girls” was OK, but the characters have aged but not grown ( which is fine, but the writing has to be aware of that. ) When I watch HBO now the cast will invariably have a woman, a liberal white guy and a black person. And the plot will be based in some make believe liberal urban world.
I think HBO is in the process of reloading a little bit. “Boardwalk Empire” begins its final season next month. The jury’s kind of out on “The Leftovers” still. But I liked “Silicon Valley” (and I agree about “Girls”). So what they develop in the next six months to a year is important, understanding that they have the biggest premium hit around right now in “Game of Thrones.”
And one bonus question:
Have you ever gotten star-struck meeting a celebrity?
I was introduced to comicbook artist Neal Adams — who was my favorite when I was a kid — at Comic-Con. My wife said I stammered like a little boy. Probably had a lot to do with the age I was when I encountered his work.