Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Only Constant is Change

Now batting for The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Goodman...

Change has come again to our troubled world. Tim Goodman, my own favorite television critic and analyst (and all-around good guy/loyal Giants fan), is leaving his position as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Television Critic for a new gig with the Hollywood Reporter. Although this is a big move for Tim – finally stepping up to bat in the major leagues after so many years honing his skills in the relatively calm media backwaters of the Bay Area– it’s a blow to those of us who have long been addicted to his crisp, snarky writing style and trenchant analysis of our culture’s favorite medium.

Tim's legions of fans will just have to click to another website to continue reading his work, but the possibility remains that this move could bring new pressures to soften his famously tart, take-no-prisoners approach to television criticism. Writing about television for a newspaper comfortably far from Hollywood –- and safely outside The Machine –- is very different than working inside the belly of such a powerful, paranoid, and image-obsessed beast. Working at a distance provided him a very long leash when it came to speaking the blunt truth to those Industry powers, whether they liked it or not. Much of the time, they didn’t, but Tim has never been shy about telling it like it is. That’s one the things I've always loved about his work.

The Hollywood Reporter is a very different institution, with ancient, gnarled roots that go deep into the Industry aquifer. THR grew up with and exists because of Hollywood, and thus will always remain somewhat dependent on and beholden to Industry. Although Tim is understandably excited about getting in on the ground floor of a web-based revolution at THR, we can only hope they’ll give him the same green light to swing for the fences in calling bullshit on Hollywood from the inside. Given Tim's penchant for speaking his mind regardless of the circumstances, it's doubtful he'd have taken this job without an assurance of such freedom, so I remain optimistic on this.

At any rate, he's across the Rubicon now -- there’s no going back.

Still, I ache for the newspaper I grew up on – the paper that first exposed me to (and taught me to appreciate) good writing, and that has nurtured so many wonderful writers over the years. Mark Twain once wrote for the Chronicle, and if that doesn't make for a distinguished pedigree, I don't know what does.

The first media critic I ever paid attention to was the late, great John Wasserman, who wrote for the Chron from 1964 until his untimely and horrific death in 1979. Wasserman was a wonderful writer who left a very big pair of shoes to fill. He died well before the Internet, leaving his work gathering dust in newspaper archives on library shelves, but a selected compilation of his Chronicle columns was finally published in 1993.*

Taking his chair at the Chron was John Carman, whose thoughtful, pithy columns about television pulled no punches over much of the following two decades. But as the Internet eroded the fiscal foundation of newspapers everywhere, the Chron too began to contract. Much to my dismay, they offered early retirement to John Carman, who accepted. Although the bulk of his writing was done prior to the Internet, you can still find a few of his columns in the Chronicle’s on-line archives. Here’s a nice little taste of his style.

Then came the brash new kid, Tim Goodman (I did a post about that transition here), who soon put his own stamp on the field of television criticism. Fully embracing the digital revolution, Goodman immediately started a Chronicle blog, where for the past several years he’s posted brilliant and fascinating post-show analysis of “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad.” Checking in on Monday or Tuesday to read his de-constructions of the latter two shows over the past few years has been a wonderfully illuminating and satisfying experience.

Now Goodman too is leaving the Chron, and although I’m happy for his professional success, I feel bad for my home-town newspaper, which is now a pale shadow of its former self. I don’t know who they’ll find to fill Goodman’s enormous critical shoes. These days, the serious talent seems to be fleeing newspapers like survivors frantically swimming away from a sinking ship. Maybe some new brash young kid will step up and make his or her mark on the world of television criticism. I hope so.

Still, life is a zero-sum game, and the Chronicle's loss is the Hollywood Reporter's gain. THR was smart to hire Tim Goodman, and are lucky to have such a talented writer on their staff. I wish him the very best in this new venture, and look forward to reading his columns at THR starting on November 3.

* The book is titled "Praise, Vilification & Sexual Innuendo, or How to Be a Critic: The Selected Writings of John L. Wasserman, 1964-1979."

I found a used copy in good condition on the Internet a few years ago.

Anyone not familiar with Goodman and Carman's work -- and too lazy to follow all those links or read the source material -- can click here for several pages of choice quotes posted on a crazy Irishman's blog...

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