Question: I have read review after review of shows that I and many other people enjoy that critics from TV Guide and other places have just decimated. Let's take the Fox Comedy Titus for example. Your reviewer basically said it stinks, yet Fox has ordered a whole new season. If it stinks so bad, why is it back? I don't like the fact that the elite few who have been fortunate to be picked to have a Nielsen ratings box installed on the tube in their home have final say on what stays on the air and what doesn't. (Strange Luck is one example and Due South is another.) But I'm forced to have to live with it. I'll just enjoy the smart shows that do more than turn me into a pile of mush on a couch while they last, but why can't critics think the way we, the viewing public, think? Why can't they just write about what is really good or really bad and not what their Harvard or Ivy league education dictates has to be good or bad based on some obscure standard that we, the uneducated masses, would have no concept of?
Televisionary: Well, I could take issue with your assertion that critics hate smart shows and that's why those shows fail, but I won't. After all, TV Guide critic Matt Roush earns a living with his opinion, so why not let him defend it, too? Here's what Matt had to say:
"For one thing, I've always liked Titus myself. The first episode out of the gate wasn't so great this season, but it gets better — and I love what it says and how it says it, even though it's often awfully rough. (I also thoroughly enjoyed Due South, though I could see from the start that Strange Luck was going to tank. Too derivative and too pleased with its quirky self. But that's just my opinion.)
"Bottom line: Everyone's a TV critic. Everyone with a TV, that is. And everyone's entitled to a point of view. I also despair that the small sample of those with Nielsen boxes is often allowed to determine what stays on the air, but in a week when people would rather watch the Michael Jackson concert, in all of its overproduced non-glory, than tune in to the truly terrific new 24 (for once, all the hype wasn't just hype — it was true honest-to-God enthusiasm), I don't know what to say about popular taste.
"I truly believe most critics are looking for the unusual, distinctive, challenging, just plain enjoyable experience, whether on TV or at the movies (I'm not so sure about book critics, who seem to hate what's most popular). But in reviewing TV, I also know that this most democratic of all media must serve a number of audiences, and shows that aren't meant for me (say, 7th Heaven) also deserve a place on the schedule to satisfy those who aren't willing to take the ride with Titus — or Malcolm in the Middle or The Simpsons for that matter. I even have to force myself to acknowledge there's an appetite for 'reality' TV, though I wish there weren't. And I have to judge each of those shows on their merits; once in a while (as with the underrated The Amazing Race), they can actually be compelling.
"It's not so much that critics are telling viewers what to think. From where I sit, I feel that my job is to let people know what I think about what they're being offered, while describing it as best as I can in a way for people to make up their own minds that this is or isn't what they're looking for. It's an imperfect science, but it also helps to actually like TV, to believe in its possibilities and despair at its failures. Much of TV is bad, even more of it is mediocre, but a lot of it is amazingly good, given what it takes to produce a show on the schedules they keep.
"The one aspect of this letter that I can't get my mind around is, 'Why can't critics think the way we, the viewing public, think?' Even in this office, with many like-minded souls who obsess on TV, there's no such thing as a consensus. TV viewing, and TV reviewing, is very much a matter of personal taste. Get used to it. Get over it."