On Johnny Carson, a cold man in a hot seat.
“Every Sunday at my house … we watched The Ed Sullivan Show…. Whether we enjoyed it or not. That was my first lesson in show business. I don’t think anybody in the house particularly enjoyed it. We just watched it. Maybe that’s the purpose of television. You just turn it on and watch it whether you want to or not.”
A profile of Roseanne Barr and her multiple personalities.
A melancholic Billy Ray Cyrus on the trauma of being the father of a famous 18-year-old girl, his friendship with Kurt Cobain, and his favorite mullet nicknames (Kentucky Waterfall and Missouri Compromise).
How cable sports channels extort hundreds of dollars per year out of every cable subscriber for programming that less than 10% regularly watch.
An essay on Jimmy Savile, British television and child sexual abuse.
A conversation with Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation.
A day at the mall with the cast of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
The secret is an exclusive 22-year-old archive of viewer-submitted clips.
A profile from Cooper’s early days an an anchor.
A profile of Larry King at the height of his fame and on the heels of his sixth divorce.
The author recounts playing herself – best-selling author Sloane Crosley – on an episode of “Gossip Girl.”
At 67, the American Bandstand icon remains “one hard-working mother.”
The story behind the story that ended Dan Rather’s career.
How reality TV has changed tattooing.
Tattoos and tattoo artists have an undeniable power to attract, repulse, and intimidate. But when confronted with all this life and color, reality TV steamrolls it into the familiar “drama” of preening divas and wounded pride. “Everybody thinks they’re gonna change it,” said Anna Paige, an artist who said she’d turned down her chance at TV stardom. “Everybody thinks they’re gonna have some power.” But wait, isn’t she profiting from tattooing’s mass appeal? “I would have made money anyway.”
A profile of 25-year-old Lena Dunham, showrunner and star of HBO’s Girls.
Jimmy McNulty, Mike Daisey, and the problems with skirting the system to get to the greater truth.
An oral history of Saturday Night Live.Part of our guide to SNL for Slate.
How one of the most maligned cast members in SNL history ended up a talking head on Fox News.
JW: You’ve talked about how you’ve had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in an inarticulate, catchy way. It’s almost as though you’re writing material for them. What’s the place of morality and ethics in your comedy? I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there’s a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, “Oh, I’m just not doing it, I’m not doing the right thing.” There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don’t know what that is, I’m really curious about that. I’m really curious about what people think they’re doing when they’re doing something evil, casually.
A suburban dad. A fictional television blowhard. And now a political money launderer. How one funny guy became three.
On “If You Are the One”, the smash hit Chinese dating show that raised the ire of censors.
A profile of Carrie Brownstein, riot grrrl and creator of Portlandia.
Enlightened is probably the sharpest satire of modern white-collar work since the original British version of The Office, and its skewering of this world intertwines with its portrait of individual personalities so deftly that you can’t separate them. Creator Mike White captures the unsettling blandness of office protocol, politics and jargon, from the chill that workers feel when Human Resources calls them out of the blue to the impressive-sounding word salad labels that the company gives to its departments and projects. (The experimental department to which the newly demoted Amy is assigned is called “Cogentiva.”)
Why Whitney is Lucy, only less lovable:
This may sound like blasphemy to anyone who loves Lucille Ball, the woman who pioneered the classic joke rhythms that Whitney Cummings so klutzily mimics. Cummings has none of Ball’s shining charisma or her buzz of anarchy. Yet she does share Lucy’s rictus grin, her toddler-like foot-stamping tantrums, and especially her Hobbesian view of heterosexual relationships as a combat zone of pranks, bets, and manipulation from below. “This is war,” Whitney announces, before declaring yet another crazy scheme to undercut her boyfriend, and it might as well be the series’ catchphrase.
It's a glorious thing, hearing Eddie Murphy say "fuck" again. Few people ever said it better – and down here in the basement of the stone-and-marble mansion he built on a Beverly Hills cliff, it's coming from his lips often enough to make Shrek blush. "Come on, motherfucker," Murphy shouts, over the throb of James Brown's "Hot Pants" on a formidable sound system.
GROSS: Let me stop there. You're talking about cutting yourself ... HAMMOND: Yeah. GROSS: ..with a razor. HAMMOND: Mm-hmm. GROSS: So I interrupted you. You're saying it does what? HAMMOND: Well, it creates a smaller, more manageable crisis than the one that has you gripping the carpet.
The story of the Delmar family, told through what they watch on TV.
When your house is the set of One Tree Hill:
On one shoot, I remember, I'd been confused about where they needed to set up (confession: hungover), and as a result neglected to clean the bedroom. Later, a crew guy—the same one who'd told me about Blue Velvet—said, "I'm not used to picking up other people's underwear." I felt like saying, Then don't go into their bedrooms at nine o'clock in the morning! Except… he was paying to be in my bedroom.
A profile of Mike Judge, creator of the now-resuscitated Beavis and Butthead.
A profile of the comedian who’s “not so funny anymore”:
Jon Stewart has made a career of avoiding "Whooo" humor. He has flattered the prejudices of his audience, but he has always been funny, and he has always made them laugh. At the Juan Williams taping, however, at least half of Stewart's jokes elicited the sound of Whooo! instead of the sound of laughter. He's been able to concentrate his comedy into a kind of shorthand — a pause, or a raised eyebrow, is often all that is necessary now — but a stranger not cued to laugh could be forgiven for not laughing, indeed for thinking that what was going on in front of him was not comedy at all but rather high-toned journalism with a sense of humor. Which might be how Jon Stewart wants it by now.
An interview with Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone writer Vanessa Grigoriadis on the finer points of celebrity profiling.
On the fascination, from Hollywood to Atlanta, with zombies.
21,000 words on the watchers and watched.
Smigel: Louis comes up with, "What if he says, 'I'm the nurturing president,'and I've developed the ability to breastfeed!" And I'm like, "Yeah, that's great! And then let's have him open the shirt and he's got eight nipples and he can breastfeed dogs and cats." Colbert: We had already lost a lot of sponsors. [Starts singing] It's a beautiful root beer day, the folks from Mug Root Beer have agreed to stay. But you better not breastfeed any puppies today, or you sure as hell will be on your way. So be careful you little punk, Dana Carvey! Even I think it's odd I remember all of the lyrics. I am very impressive...remembering reasons why shows I'm on failed.
The failure of MTV’s Staten Island-based reality show and the fate of its cast members:
While Bridge & Tunnel hangs in programming purgatory, the DeBartolis are hamstrung by Draconian network contracts that reportedly don't allow them to have agents or managers or even talk about any of this publicly for five years. So while JWoww shills her own black bronzer line and Snooki slams into Italian police cars for $100,000 an episode, Gabriella and Brianna have been working respectively as a secretary and a pizza-order girl in Staten Island. The papers they signed as passports off Staten Island are effectively keeping them there.
The former Perfect Strangers star cheerfully slags Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington, among others.
On Friday Night Lights as book, film, and TV show.
Less than half a decade after The Hills brought them massive celebrity, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt are broke and his living in his parent’s vacation house. Their onscreen relationship was mostly fake, but the reality, as their current situation attests, was far worse:
By the end of 2009 (and the show’s fifth season), their lives seemed insane. Instead of riding bikes, Spencer was holding guns. Heidi’s plastic surgeries gave her a distorted quality, but she vowed to have more. Spencer grew a thick beard, became obsessed with crystals, and was eventually told to leave the series. There were daily updates on gossip sites about them “living in squalor,” publicly feuding with their families, and attacking The Hills producers (or claiming The Hills producers attacked them). By the time they announced they were (fake) splitting, followed by Spencer threatening to release various sex tapes, and Heidi (fake) filing for divorce, it seemed like they had ventured into, at best,Joaquin Phoenix-like, life-as-performance-art notoriety and, at worst, truly bleakStar 80 territory that could end with one or both of them dead.
An oral history.
Tom Freston: We knew we needed a real signature piece that would look different from everything else on TV. We also knew that we had no money. So we went to NASA and got the man-on-the-moon footage, which is public domain. We put our logo on the flag and some music under it. We thought that was sort of a rock ’n’ roll attitude: “Let’s take man’s greatest moment technologically, and rip it off.”
A profile of Rupert Murdoch from 1995, as he fought monopoly charges in the U.S. and U.K. and prepared to expand his empire into China.
Murdoch is a pirate; he will cunningly circumvent rules, and sometimes principles, to get his way, as his recent adventures in China demonstrate.
A profile of Rupert Murdoch, written before his empire began to crumble.
To this day, no one (outside of the movie's own crew) knows how the Muppets rode bicycles in The Great Muppet Caper, the classic Henson movie from 1981. In that scene, Kermit stands up on one frog-leg on the seat of his bicycle to impress Miss Piggy, and then the whole gang joins them on their bikes, doing circles and figure eights, singing “Couldn’t We Ride?” It's a wonderful piece of filmmaking, and still a complete delight to watch because the effect relied on the ingenuity and bravado of the puppeteers and crew, not CGI wizardry. Contrast the joy and ebullience of this scene to the elegant chiaroscuro slickness of the post-Henson Muppet Christmas Carol in which we see old fogies Statler and Waldorf, as the Marley brothers, floating in mid air. No viewer is impressed; no one really thinks about it at all. And that's because when a then 29-year-old Brian Henson directed that film, he threw the rules out the window. Statler and Waldorf “float” because Goelz and Nelson, the men working the old guys, were standing behind them during filming and then were removed in post production. It’s an elegant fix—a cutting of the Gordian knot—but it is a complete break with an aesthetic 35 years in the making.
Because of what happened in Georgia, Ms. Grace has said over and over, she knows firsthand how the system favors hardened criminals over victims. It is the foundation of her judicial philosophy, her motivation in life, her casus belli. And much of it isn’t true.
On the oeuvre of Glenn Beck:
"The undisputed high point of Beck’s tenure in Baltimore was an elaborate prank built around a nonexistent theme park. The idea was to run a promotional campaign for the fictional grand opening of the world’s first air-conditioned underground amusement park, called Magicland. According to Beck and Gray, it was being completed just outside Baltimore. During the build-up, the two created an intricate and convincing radio world of theme-park jingles and promotions, which were rolled out in a slow buildup to the nonexistent park’s grand opening… On the day Magicland was supposed to throw open its air-conditioned doors, Beck and Gray took calls from enraged listeners who tried to find the park and failed. Among the disappointed and enraged was a woman who had canceled a no-refund cruise to attend the event." — from Alexander Zaitchik’s Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance
Dr. Drew has turned addiction television into a mini-empire, offering treatment and cameras to celebrities who have fallen far enough to take the bait. His motivations, he insists, are pure:
Whether the doctor purposefully cultivates his celebrity stature for noble means or wittingly invites it because he himself likes being in the spotlight, he is operating on the assumption that his empathetic brand of TV will breed empathy instead of the more likely outcome, that it will just breed more TV.
On the relationship between Keith Olbermann and the camera.
The circus Roger Ailes created at Fox News made his network $900 million last year. But it may have lost him something more important: the next election.
“Winning” in Hollywood means not just power, money, and complimentary smoked-salmon pizza, but also that everyone around you fails just as you are peaking.
Louis C.K. has a deal unlike anyone else’s on TV: his network, FX, has no approval rights and offers no notes. He is also the show’s lone writer, editor, director, and star. A profile.
On the talent, ego, and late father of Bryant Gumbel.
A profile of Larry Garrison, the man who “gets paid to bring tabloid stories to TV news programs.”
A profile of Steve Carell, whose last appearance as Michael Scott in The Office airs tonight.
It’s like when they fucking show—I know nothing about plays and shit, but sometimes they’ll show a play on TV, and it’s fucking shit, because you’re like, “What the fuck, am I supposed to think that’s a moon?” Like it’s a cardboard moon or some shit.
On Chuck Lorre, creator of the #1 (Two and a Half Men) and #2 comedy on American television, former cruise ship guitarist, composer of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, and recently antagonist of Charlie Sheen.
On David Milch; Yale fraternity brother of George W. Bush, literature professor, longtime junkie, creator of NYPD Blue, Deadwood (which was in production when this profile was written), and the forthcoming racetrack-set HBO series Luck.
How Dennis from Head of the Class grew up to be the Aaron Sorkin of tween television.
Is Dr. Drew’s “Celebrity Rehab” therapy or tabloid voyeurism?
On Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and their new Broadway musical about Mormons, which “may just be their highest artistic achievement yet.”
The comedian and veteran of MTV’s The State on a peculiar brand of stardom. “Often people would be like, I’m such a big fan of your work. I think you’re amazing. I want to have a career like yours. And I’m like, great, can you buy me a slice of pizza?”
SNL in its grim twentieth season through the lens of first (and only) year cast-member Janeane Garofalo.
When Conan O’Brien left NBC, he agreed to stay off TV for months and stay quiet about the network and its executives. The agreement contained no mention of social media, however. On the origins of a digital renaissance.
On the late comedian Bill Hicks, just as a performance on Letterman is deemed unfit for network TV.
On how 21st century culture shifts killed the nerd and what lies ahead.
An interview with mind behind both Five Easy Pieces and The Monkees.
Thoughts on an emerging brand of feminism and the ridiculousness of claiming that Tina Fey is unattractive.
A profile of Larry David, with a focus on his years as a struggling stand-up. “I was hoping that somehow I could get some kind of cult following and get by with that.”
In Detroit, the aftermath of a reality-TV SWAT raid that killed a sleeping seven-year-old.
A review of several books on Rupert Murdoch first criticizes the authors for not grasping the many sides of their subject, then offers a thesis of its own. He’s “not so much a man, or a cultural force, as a portrait of the modern world.”
The young Woody Allen writes jokes for supper club comedians, decides he will never make it as a performer and then does, idolizes and is snubbed by Mort Sahl, and develops the comic persona which will make him a star.
Behind the scenes of Conan vs. Leno. An excerpt from The War for Late Night.
On the set of Afghanistan’s first soap opera and at home with its cast.
As CEO of HBO, Chris Albrecht was responsible for putting The Wire, The Sopranos, and Sex and the City on the air. Then he choked his girlfriend outside a Vegas casino, got fired, and took a job running Starz.
Why did a veteran BBC on-air personality confess on camera to a mercy killing he did not commit?
Behind the scenes with Kenny Powers, on set filming the 2nd run of Eastbound & Down, probably the only American TV series that would set an entire season in Mexico.
Ten years ago, a pair of legendary TV executives decided it was time to change the formula for football broadcasting. One bet on Dennis Miller. The other bankrolled Vince McMahon and the XFL.
A profile of Jon Stewart, who’s now run The Daily Show for more than a decade.
A profile of the man who helped invent the modern art of presidential spin and came to embody the blurry line between journalist and government official.
A new Egyptian TV channel called 4Shbab—“for youth” in Arabic—aims to get young people interested in Islam through music videos and reality shows.
A writer for Conan O’Brien on how The Tonight Show really ended and on how his boss got screwed.
Saad Mohseni, Afghanistan’s first media mogul and a business partner of Rupert Murdoch, produces everything from nightly news broadcasts to the controversial Afghan version of American Idol.
Clay Shirky, writing in 1999 on the Web eclipsing TV’s reach: “We will always have massive media, but the days of mass media are over, killed by the explosion of possibility and torn into a thousand niches.”
Is Mike Huckabee the GOP’s best hope in 2012? Mike Huckabee’s not so sure.
In 2003, Gary Coleman ran for governor of California. But what he really wanted was to have never come to Hollywood in the first place.
The nation watched live as Robert O’Donnell rescued Baby Jessica from that well in Texas in October, 1987. Then they stopped watching, and Robert O’Donnell was lost without the attention.
How HBO went from sitcoms starring Delta Burke and O.J. Simpson to The Wire. The view from a former HBO employee who witnessed the channel’s rise to prominence firsthand.
Bill Conradt, a well-known prosecutor, never showed up at the house in Murphy, Texas, where police and a crew from NBC’s To Catch a Predator were waiting. So they, along with a SWAT team, went to Conradt.
Al-Jazeera English dominated the international coverage of the 2008-2009 Gaza war. And now it’s poised to invade North America.
“As a middle-aged queer, I could not break cover. And, as a middle-aged black man, I was embarrassed that these white boys from this melodrama mattered to me anyway.”
According to Lou Dobbs, we’re wrong about his stance on illegal immigrants, wrong about why he quit CNN, and wrong about his presidential aspirations. Well, we might actually be right about that last thing.
“I could give a flying crap about the political process,” Beck says. Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously. And he’s very good at it: Beck pulled in $32 million in the last year.