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The Top Five Magazine Articles About TV We’ve Ever Read

October 19th, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

We spend a lot of time reading very dense, very long magazine pieces. We’ve become very good friends with the pillar near the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble.

Well, less so recently. We’ve been in awe of this website, LongReads.com, that culls the best magazine writing in the world onto one page. It’s made us much smarter and generally kept us away from that pillar. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from huge magazine articles, it’s that we don’t know where that thing has been.

If there’s another thing we’ve learned, it’s that there’s a lot of great writing about TV out there. And that’s why we’ve decided to cull all of our favorites into one place.

5. Esquire’s Tom Junod spends a day in Mr. Rogers’ actual neighborhood for Esquire, and his experience will make you cry roughly 15 times.

Yes, sure, he was taping, and right there, in Penn Station in New York City, were rings of other children wiggling in wait for him, but right now his patient gray eyes were fixed on the little boy with the big sword, and so he stayed there, on one knee, until the little boy’s eyes finally focused on Mister Rogers, and he said, “It’s not a sword; it’s a death ray.” A death ray! Oh, honey, Mommy knew you could do it … And so now, encouraged, Mommy said, “Do you want to give Mister Rogers a hug, honey?” But the boy was shaking his head no, and Mister Rogers was sneaking his face past the big sword and the armor of the little boy’s eyes and whispering something in his ear—something that, while not changing his mind about the hug, made the little boy look at Mister Rogers in a new way, with the eyes of a child at last, and nod his head yes.

We were heading back to his apartment in a taxi when I asked him what he had said.

“Oh, I just knew that whenever you see a little boy carrying something like that, it means that he wants to show people that he’s strong on the outside.

“I just wanted to let him know that he was strong on the inside, too.

“And so that’s what I told him.

“I said, ‘Do you know that you’re strong on the inside, too?

“Maybe it was something he needed to hear.”

4. The New Yorker’s Bill Buford figures out why we spend whole weekends watching the Food Network and why that’s okay.

Al has shot a lot of food. (“More diced onions than anyone on the planet.”) He is thirty-six and has been behind a food camera for ten years. I’d watched him before, during a taping of “Emeril Live,” starring Emeril Lagasse, the portly Portuguese baker from Fall River, Massachusetts, who was probably more naturally an evangelist than a natural chef and, after years at the Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans, had been born again as a Creole kitchen crooner. Lagasse was the first to discover that cooking before a bleachers crowd, primed to respond raucously to theatrical additions of garlic or chili flakes or bacon (“Let’s take it up a notch!”), can make for inexplicably compelling television. “The trick,” Al had told me, “is to film during the lunch hour and get closeups of the audience—they’re crazy with hunger.”

After the pecans, Al shot a cup of milk being measured out. This required three takes and was followed by a “sound pass”—same event, but with a microphone close up to get the acoustic ripples. They would be amplified and edited back into the final version. Milk as waterfall.

3. GQ does some retrospective scouting at the world’s best comedy farm team, The Dana Carvey Show. It only aired for eight episodes, but launched the careers of Louis C.K., Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, and these “poor guys:” Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.

Feresten: I was sharing a room with Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. I thought, Well, these guys are pretty clever and very funny. I really hope it works out for them, but I doubt it will.

Gold: When I first met Steve Carell I thought, Here’s a really sweet, funny guy. I wonder what he’s ever going to do with his career? I remember seeing Colbert—we were both going to an audition for something in Manhattan. I saw Steve Colbert just sort of like pathetically putting quarters into the meter and looking at his watch and running late to go to this audition. Again, I looked at him—and this was before The Daily Show—and I went, Ugh, this poor guy. And he’s so talented; I wish someone would give him a break.

2. Esquire’s Chuck Klosterman puts onto paper something we’ve all thought for a nanosecond but didn’t quite know how to say: How do we supernaturally know what channel is on right when we walk into a room with a TV?

“I have always wondered this: Why am I able to see any random television program, often for less than ten seconds, and immediately recognize which network the show is airing on? To me, the differences seem obvious and undeniable: On ABC, colors are always darker and the definition is softer. NBC programs look more like traditional videotape (brighter, sharper, more aggressively modern). Everything on CBS has a slightly grainy, understated appearance. Fox looks like the middle ground between CBS and NBC. When the show Cavemen premiered last fall and I came across the first episode by accident, I did not know what channel I was watching, but I did know this: Aesthetically, Cavemen looked like an ABC show. It looked like Head of the Class, which had looked like Barney Miller. I had a similar experience when I first saw 30 Rock, a sitcom that visually resembles Friends (which visually resembled Silver Spoons). These relationships have nothing to do with content; they refer only to the technical, non-narrative aspects of how the shows are broadcast. For reasons I don’t understand, I can identify the look of any major network instantaneously. So can a lot of other people. We can do it without even trying.

Except that we can’t.”

1. Esquire’s Chris Jones writes the best story about TV we’ve ever read. And it’s about, of all things, a perfect bid on “The Price is Right.”

When the show aired that December after all — pushed by CBS into the ratings doldrums — Carey was torched mostly for his lack of enthusiasm when he announced the perfect bid. The only scandal — outside the supermarket tabloids — was that he hadn’t done what Bob Barker would have done. Bob Barker would have made Terry Kniess into the greatest contestant in television-game-show history. Terry Kniess would have been anointed. “Oh, I would have run with that, you bet,” Barker says today from his happy retirement. Here was studio magic, here was perfection, here was this man who had never met innocent Roger Dobkowitz — no, here was only a smart man with silver hair, a disciplined man, a weatherman who had spent a lifetime being accurate, and who had also been a little bit lucky, and who had won a game that was made to be broken.

“Yeah, but that’s not what happened,” Carey says.

What happened?

“There was that guy, in the audience,” he says. “Ted.”

Last comment: Oct 19th 2011 1 Comment
  • Lizbet says:

    I refuse to read web pages where the numbers (bullets) are dark enough to read yet the print is grey, on top of that, the words are one long a** paragraph without a break anywhere. That also goes for bright color backgrounds with either a contrasting annoying color or one in the same hue only lighter or darker. Sorry for ranting here, but this was the last straw.