Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: with the proliferation of places for everyone and anyone to talk about TV online, is there still value to television critics?
It seems unlikely that this would be a place to find an argument against critics, and sure enough I can’t do it. I’m a strong believer in a strong critical community for any category of art or entertainment. Without it, the art form itself appears weak. If Canadian TV can’t withstand criticism, what does that say to potential viewers?
Silence is not golden when it comes to criticism. Damning with faint praise sometimes feels like a cliché made forCanadian TV. Liking everything is akin to liking nothing. Easy to say, but the industry should rejoice when critics are critical. Or at least mutter to themselves. Critics are just part of what influences people to decide to watch a show, and likely not even the most important part, but the connection to a mass audience is still significant.
The rise of social media hasn’t changed my opinion that professional critics are necessary and good, making the incredible shrinking Canadian TV critic community something we should all be rallying against. Especially when the modicum of diversity of critical voices that used to exist is shrinking right along with it.
There is a difference between professional critics the armchair critics who posts their thoughts on Twitter, or the fans who post their excitement on Tumblr. Assuming a critic is actually critical — not as in negative, but as in forming opinions and writing about them with a high degree of awareness of how plot, character, tone, structure and execution intersect to create those opinions — over time, readers can come to understand a critic’s taste and how it aligns with their own. Fans can also feel challenged to examine our own opinions and reasons for our reactions to the content.
Some like to deny it but there is still cache to having something discussed in print, in particular, but really anywhere the content has gone through the gatekeeping of an editorial process.
Newspapers also know a scary amount of information about their subscribers: age ranges, income brackets, and a host of other demographics and psychographics. Digital publications know the kind of content their readers click on and comment on most — two metrics that don’t correspond as much as you might think.
Knowledge is power, on both sides. Professional critics know who they’re talking to and over time, readers know who they’re listening to. If a critic is unfair, or the critique doesn’t substantiate a negative review, there’s also a power in the audience fighting back. When the industry does it? Weak.
I am, of course, biased in my opinion that television critics are still important because I am one. And, in the ever-changing world where we’re seeing movie and TV critics being let go by newspapers and websites, they’re even more important.
I view the role of the television critic as this: watch a television show, comment on it, celebrate it or be critical of it. Have an opinion. If you think something is good, outline why. Hate it? Explain why. I’ve been ripped on for not being too critical of television shows or the industry in general, but I choose to find the overall good in things rather than focus on the things that aren’t working. I’m not afraid to point out shortcomings, but when I do it’s with a suggestion on how to make things better. Being miserable and mean just for the sake of it is, in my opinion, lazy.
I view my thoughts as being the starting point for a discussion. It’s something I’ve enjoyed for the last 15 years. There is nothing more fun than to have someone approach me and ask my thoughts on a TV show. Before I know it, I’m running through the programs on my DVR, the person I’m talking to is giving me their list and we’re talking. You may not agree with me—or me you—but man it’s fun.
Critics are never more important than they are now. With more of them in this industry being silenced due to job cuts, there is nothing to counter the noise coming from websites owned by cable companies touting their homegrown shows. I’m sorry to tell those folks, but not all of your shows are great no matter how much you tell me they are and how many behind-the-scenes exclusives you get.
You need someone to call bullshit, and that’s my job.
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