Pulse: Media: Turned On By TV

In his new book, Berwyn-based critic Ken Tucker sounds off on what’s good and bad about our favorite medium

If there were a “Mr. Pop Culture” contest, Ken Tucker would have to
be a strong contender for the title. Tucker came to Philadelphia in 1982 as the Inquirer’s pop music critic. He switched to TV critic four years later, and left to join the staff of Entertainment Weekly in 1990. (He and his family stayed in the area; they live in Berwyn.) This past fall, he was named movie critic of New York magazine.

Tucker’s new book, Kissing Bill O’Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy (St.
Martin’s Press), consists of short, highly personal takes on, as the subtitle says, “100 Things to Love and Hate About TV.”

I have to say, you’re on target a lot of the time. M*A*S*H never even made me chuckle; Buffalo Bill was an underappreciated classic; Homer Simpson is a god. But how could you trash A Charlie Brown Christmas?

That tedious special, with its stiff animation and awful jazz score, never did justice to Charles Schulz’s great, subtle, existential comic strip, and the specials only got worse with every new holiday.

Okay, but how could you praise MTV’s The Real World? Isn’t that the clearest sign yet of the decline of Western civilization?

Oh, people always think energetic vulgarity is the end of the world; not so. I do think Real World’s formula has devolved into murky drunkenness, but in its early seasons, it was as involving as any daytime soap opera.

What made you set up the book as a love-hate dichotomy? Isn’t most of TV in the vast middle?

No! I’ve discovered that no matter how bland a show is, there’s someone out there who thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced Proust. TV, because you live with it in your home, 24/7, inspires strong loves and hates.

What are the current TV trends you love and hate the most?

Love: recent shows that feature intelligent (instead of rude) teens, like The O.C. and Joan of Arcadia. Hate: American Idol and all those makeover shows.

Anything good, bad or even notable about Philadelphia TV?

I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve always been fascinated by the clips I’ve seen of local legends like Sally Starr, Chief Halftown and Captain Noah. Local children’s television is a lost art. I wish it would be revived. The best local show? WPVI’s Action News, of course: blaring theme song, firm Jim Gardner, curvy Cecily Tynan. It’s perfect TV.