TV Guide

Over the years, I've tried to fill the gaping emotional and spiritual chasms that exist within me with everything from booze to broads to needlepoint. Family, friends, imams... each leaves me more forlorn than the next. Solace, it seems, is an acquaintance I shan't ever make.

Last Friday, however, I upgraded to high-definition television. Ninety-six short hours later, I'm a new man: happily revisiting expired friendships, helping seniors shop for groceries, even refraining from shrieking at retard cabbies who return me to the Upper West Side via Poughkeepsie. In this television set, I have found my soulmate and my salvation. Sharp LC-37D4U, you had me at "plug the HDMI cable into the satellite/cable box's output-3 jack."

And so I find myself faced with a terrible dilemma. On one hand, I'm more in love with television today than I've ever been. On the other, I have some seriously not-nice things to say about one of the medium's venerable institutions, the recently revamped TV Guide. Alas, I can't let this lighter-than-an-Olsen-twin mood o' mine corrupt my critical faculties, so just stop reading now if you are in any way affiliated with or sympathetic to this decaying corpse of a magazine.

Growing up, my family's house was one of the few on the block that didn't claim a TV Guide subscription. Big believers in the collective intellect of their three kids, my folks assumed we could sort things out on our own, especially in the four-channel, Edna Garrett world of 1982. Which renders the mag's new tagline, "TV made easy," particularly embarrassing. What, has watching TV become so complicated as to demand printed accompaniment? I mean, it's pretty much point-and-click simple, especially with the on-screen program guides offered by most cable providers, isn't it?

The treacly tone of the tagline infests nearly all of the January 23-29 TV Guide. Its captions exist in a land untainted by irony ("Director Pamela Fryman shares a few notes") and its criticisms get no more profound than a squishily worded suggestion that VH-1 should lay off the Flavor Flav.

Slightly more troubling is the issue's complete absence of insider scoop, outside of the cosmos-redefining revelation that Juliette Lewis will be guesting on an upcoming "My Name Is Earl." A Q&A with Jamie Foxx serves up questions like "how was it performing in front of an audience?"--to which Foxx duly responds using very, very small words. Similarly, the "exclusive" photos from "Dancing With the Stars" would seem to suggest that the show mostly features celebrities who dance. I know, I know--I was hoping for a bong or an assault weapon, too.

The issue's "Breaking News" section includes an item about personal fave "Reno 911" hitting the big screen (reported elsewhere weeks ago) and a "What I'm Watching" chat with Rob Morrow--the only news contained therein being that the guy is apparently still alive (zing!). The overall effect? TV Guide now reads like it was assembled by people with about as much access to the inner workings of the biz as anesthetized couch zombies themselves.

The columnists don't fare much better, with "The Ausiello Report" and "Is It Just Me?" sharing more in common with The Onion's "Outside Scoop" than with anything in entertainment journalism. The freshly revamped design crudely and transparently apes Entertainment Weekly's back-of-the-book listings; the cover offer of "free gasoline for a year!" wouldn't appear to have much to do with television. Thank heaven for the mag's beloved crossword puzzle, which at least offers comic relief in the form of head-scratchers like "17: Leave ____ Beaver (two words)."

All this feels like piling on, which isn't my intent. I'm sure the good folks at the TV Guide Publishing Group, many of whom have had to do some professional juggling in the wake of Inside TV's forced extinction, don't need to hear some ill-humored feeb savage their shiny new product. But in the end, it doesn't matter how much one might want to like something or how hard somebody might have worked on that something: If it sucks, it sucks. And the new TV Guide truly, thoroughly, irreparably sucks.

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