A Fearless Media Critic

"Here is what Jack Shafer is," says Erik Wemple, who blogs about the media for washingtonpost.com. "Obviously, very talented, tremendously original and highly informed. But more important, he is utterly uncorrupted by friendship, money, power, anything. He is ruthless with people he doesn't know, but what is impressive is how ruthless he can be with the people he knows. He's impervious to outside influence, and it's a glorious thing to watch."

An Oral History of the Rise and Fall (and Rise) of "The Dana Carvey Show"

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.

Meet the Original JWoww and Snooki, Would-Be Stars of Bridge & Tunnel

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.

When Reality-TV Fame Runs Dry

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.

Inside Match.com

A look at the dating site's new algorithm.
Codenamed “Synapse”, the Match algorithm uses a variety of factors to suggest possible mates. While taking into account a user’s stated ­preferences, such as desired age range, hair colour and body type, it also learns from their actions on the site. So, if a woman says she doesn’t want to date anyone older than 26, but often looks at ­profiles of thirty-somethings, Match will know she is in fact open to meeting older men. Synapse also uses “triangulation”. That is, the algorithm looks at the behaviour of similar users and factors in that ­information, too.

Birth of an MTV Nation

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.”

The Pirate

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.

Weekend At Kermie's: The Muppets' Strange Life After Death

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.

Magicland

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

The Celebrity Rehab of Dr. Drew

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.