It’s not just a war on movie critics. It’s a war on TV critics, too, as outlined in this Broadcasting & Cable cover story about how newspapers are laying off their TV reviewers as quickly as they are their film critics. Both trends are strikingly similar. In both cases, newspapers, feeling the pinch of ad revenue lost to the Web, are cutting critic jobs to save money, figuring that syndicated and wire service reviews will suffice. Again, producers of specialty material (this time, instead of indie studios, it’s niche and cable outlets like HBO) worry that the absence of critics will hurt their shows, while the mainstream distributors (here, instead of the big studios, it’s the broadcast networks) are less worried about the disappearance of critics as a help or hindrance to their well-funded publicity campaigns. And again, the critics themselves complain that, with the loss of unique local voices accountable to the communities they serve, newspapers are tossing out what makes them distinctive — and what would keep people from turning elsewhere for their TV info.
Naturally, I agree with the critics on this one. A couple of points that make their case even more compelling than that of the vanishing movie critics: There’s an ever-expanding universe of TV programming choices, and more than ever, viewers need someone to help them sift through it all. Also, a lot of TV (unlike film) is local, particularly newscasts, and nationally syndicated critics won’t cover that. Finally, there’s a lot of programming even on the broadcast networks that’s dependent on public advocacy from established print critics (think of a show like Friday Night Lights, pictured).
One voice that’s missing from the B&C article is that of the reader, so I’ll ask you, PopWatchers: how much do you rely on your hometown paper’s TV critics for advice on what to watch? Would you miss them if they were gone? And which online sources do you trust for information about TV and reviews of shows?