“I come out of the online community and I feel TV criticism specifically is a conversation. The debate-quality of TV that takes place over time is part of the allure of TV criticism.”
Look! Up in the sky! Is it really more like a novel? Is it more like a 10-hour movie? No, it’s TV! In her first book, I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution (Penguin Random House), Pulitzer-winning critic Emily Nussbaum celebrates TV as TV, exploring the unique aspects of the form and helping TV viewers get over status anxiety. We talk about the satisfying/horrifying experience of culling her past reviews and profiles for the book, the audience-oriented nature of TV storytelling, whether it’s important for a well-loved show to nail the finale, and the dual influences of The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on her work as a critic. We also get into her Peak TV moment, how technology has changed TV over the decades, the only time she predicted the upcoming season’s TV hits (Lost and Desperate Housewives), her theory that most workplace shows are actually about TV writing rooms, the difference between weekly and binge-released shows, the perils of writing profiles of the people she’s reviewed, and the challenge of being a funny writer who wants to make serious points. We also get into the question of how (whether?) to separate the artist from the art in the #metoo era, and how she deals with the fact that much of her sense of humor came from watching and reading Woody Allen throughout her youth. On the lighter side, she tells us her favorite songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and I reveal the ’90s show that I binged on 200+ episodes of last year! Give it a listen! And go buy I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution!
“I have a taste for criticism as theater, rather than a for-the-ages voice from on high.”
“How you do be self-hating enough to improve your writing, but not so self-hating that you cripple yourself and can’t do anything?”
“People are taking stock of their younger selves’ responses to things, not just in terms of bad experiences, but in terms of how they view the world, the way they view art.”
“The binge model is my dream and my nightmare.”
About our Guest
Emily Nussbaum is the television critic for the New Yorker magazine. She previously worked as an editor and a writer at New York Magazine, where she created The Approval Matrix. She’s also written for Slate, The New York Times, Lingua Franca and Nerve, among other publications. In 2016, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Clive Thompson and her two children. She doesn’t have a favorite television show, but under pressure, she’ll choose “Slings and Arrows.” Her first book is I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Emily’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Ms. Nussbaum by me. It’s on my instagram.