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In My Expert Opinion, Expert Opinions Still Matter
August 22, 2011  | By David Bianculli
A front-page story in The New York TimesSaturday warned against the newest unexpected wrinkle in the Internet: opportunistic entrepreneurs are offering to online retailers, as either writers or suppliers, cheaply priced positive reviews of their respective wares. Or, as the paper put it, "an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance."

fonzie_thumbs_down.jpgNeedless to say, I rate this cynical practice two thumbs down...

In a way, it's the logical, perhaps unavoidable, progression to the journalistic democratization made possible by the Internet. Everyone with a computer or wireless device has a voice, and the mainstream media -- frightened to death at the prospect of losing currency with the youngest, most tech-savvy consumers -- has elevated those voices at almost every opportunity.

You can see it most clearly on cable networks aimed at young viewers. On MTV and Fuse, for example, many programs are set aside that, while filling part of the screen with music videos or other cheaply generated programming, fills the rest with a live crawl of texts and tweets and toots and belches from its multi-tasking audience. Read those missives, though, and you'll wonder why anyone bothers to write them, much less read them.

(Compare that with the reader responses here -- perhaps your own included -- which are gratifyingly incisive and intelligent, and confirm the hope that there remains a place for smart discussion about smart TV shows.)

You can also see it on network promos for new shows that either want to embrace their fan base or have few positive reviews from actual critics at actual newspapers, magazines and professional websites. Instead of quoting raves from critics from major metropolitan newspapers, many shows now feature raves from the likes of couchpotay2 and buttscratch127.

Newspapers haven't helped any by reducing the numbers of critics covering the arts. By thinning the number, and not replacing them, newspapers and magazines are running the danger of deforesting the critical landscape without planting any new growth. And without bona fide critics to sort the wheat from the chaff, who can have faith in what's being recommended -- especially when rave reviews for Amazon and elsewhere are now being sold at $5 or less a pop?

I humbly suggest that you've already found at least one solution: TV WORTH WATCHING.

We've been in business since 2007, and many of the contributors to this site are TV critics whose individual reputations, during their careers on daily newspapers, go back decades. Nationally or regionally (or internationally, including Canada), you knew a lot of their names before you, and they, came to this site:


Ed Bark. P.J. Bednarski. Tom Brinkmoeller. Bill Brioux. Diane Holloway. Noel Holston. Gerald Jordan. Ed Martin. Eric Mink. Alan Pergament. Diane Werts. And myself. You can trust them all, and you can't buy their loyalty or praise for any amount. When Eric Mink raves about a Curt Flood HBO documentary (right), it's not because Eric is being Flooded with under-the-table payments. We watch. We write. And when we respond, it's to the material, not to some pay-per-view, pay-per-superlative arrangement.

Plus, when we relaunch next month, we're proudly adding yet another much-respected, long-standing critical voice: Eric Kohanik of Canada's TV Times. And our other writers include college professors and other established experts in specific fields.

Maybe it's because we're just about to showcase these writers anew, in preparation for the coming fall TV season, that I react with pride to news about bogus "critics" churning out positive reviews. Most reviews on this site will be positive as well -- that's the primary reason for the site, to identify and discuss the medium's best offerings.

But every review, I promise, will be earned -- not earning.




Eileen said:

If you ever hear that I'm watching shows based on a review by "buttscratch127", I beg you, please take my remote control away immediately!

Prior to the TVWW site, I followed your reviews and those of Eric Mink for years in the NY Daily News. Based on what you both recommended -- or didn't -- I was happy to plan my tv watching.

The beauty of this site is that it's introduced me to critics I might never have known -- that means you, Tom B and the Dianes, et al.

I'm sure the "bogus critics" are twenty somethings with absolutely no historical frame-of-reference for the illustrious institution that is tv. What a pity!

Those who visit this site are serious about their tv watching, and very much love the guidance that is provided here, be it a new, upcoming show or a revisit to a show that's being rerun. How many times has a commenter noted they would have missed an excellent show save for a critic's review on this site? Many, many times.

So thanks to all of you for your continued great and humorous reviews. They are not only read, but greatly appreciated.

[As are your comments, every one. Thanks, Eileen! -- DB]

Comment posted on August 22, 2011 1:46 PM
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