Inside TV

The press release heralding last month's debut of Inside TV soberly noted that the magazine would be "devoted exclusively to behind-the-scenes news about television" which, of course, is carny for "we'll be the first to let you know what Jennifer Garner just had tattooed on her lower back." While the publication isn't so one-dimensional as to deserve the lowly classification of gossip rag, it often veers into quick-dish territory. The New Yorker, for example, probably wouldn't go out of its way to trumpet Jessica Simpson's "longtime manicurist" as a legit news source.

Yet while one's initial impulse may be to dismiss Inside TV as a publication for those who think People's television listings have too many, like, words, the mag deserves to be taken more seriously. It picks up where its corporate sibling TV Guide leaves off, offering a glut of news and notes about the week in television. The mag doesn't bother with bottom-of-the-Nielsens dreck; it traffics in the biggest names and flashiest duds, and its weekly frequency allows it to tweak as the zeitgeist demands. Translated: no Joey Tribbiani for you, friend.

The aforementioned Nick-n-Jessica scoop (o happy day - things are again peaceful in the marital boudoir!) headlines the May 23 Inside TV, alongside items on Patrick Dempsey's racecar fixation and a pre-DVD-release look back at "Moonlighting" (note to flacks with free copies: color me interested). We learn that Fran Drescher was evacuated with the rest of Washington when those kooky Cessna fellas flew into restricted airspace a few days back; that you too can be just like Paris Hilton ("Get the Look"), give or take a few hotel chains; and that whatever Eva Longoria is paying her publicist, it's not enough, judging by her ubiquity on these pages and elsewhere.

While I don't necessarily agree with some of the mag's choices, they all make sense given its heat-of-the-moment approach. A two-page feature on TV's top-10 cliffhangers probably should have been given some of the 12-odd pages devoted to the gals, sets, dresses, and literature (okay, not really) of "Desperate Housewives," for instance. That said, the magazine remains consistent in its approach; there isn't a single word, caption, headline, or pull-quote that strays from the formula.

Plus Inside TV has succeeded in an area where every publication save for Entertainment Weekly has failed, creating an easily navigable, smart-looking listings section. The mag devotes a whopping four pages to each day of the upcoming TV week, dividing shows by genre and supplementing the text nuggets with a range of pix and sidebars. Best is each night's "Big Decision," in which the mag courts massive, riot-sparking controversy by choosing between two shows in the same time slot. A tad simplistic? Sure, but it's a perfect tonal fit.

Inside TV does get a bit dopey at times, however. Not unlike its TV Guide equivalent, the crossword puzzle stoops to new levels of dimwittitude with every clue ("4 across: 18-foot-tall actress --- Arthur"). I also question the inclusion of the "tune in!" boxes littered throughout the mag, which announce where and when top-rated shows can be found. If you're reading Inside TV, it's a pretty safe bet that you know when "American Idol" airs. Hell, you've probably wallpapered your breakfast nook with a network scheduling grid.

Inside TV may incorporate elements from any number of semi-competing publications (Us Weekly and In Style, in addition to those already mentioned), but somehow it manages to feel relatively fresh - an accomplishment in this era of celebrity and entertainment saturation. Priced to move at $1.99, it's not difficult to envision the mag evolving into a supermarket-checkout staple before too long. Worth a look.

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