Friday, October 9, 2015

Entertainment Weekly: So long and goodbye, though I loved you

My Subscription (1990 – 2005), R.I.P.

Entertainment Weekly- Issue I with K.D. Lang
     I started reading Entertainment Weekly in the local grocery store magazine aisle when I was unemployed and didn’t think I could afford to buy it.  My Mom started my subscription as a gift.  I loved it because nothing else was on the market that covered movies, television, pop music, books and computer software (at that time).  It also connected popular culture with what was happening in current events.  Its trenchant and hilarious comment upon the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings was to cast all the major (Thomas and Anita Hill) and minor (various senators, etc.) players as they’d appear in an A-list Hollywood movie, a major network mini-series, and a Lifetime movie.  
!990s Music
     Where EW took off in the early ‘90s was in being able to handle the three major genres of popular music:  Rock (and Indie rock), Hip-Hop, and Country.  Rolling Stone writers could only really handle rock, Spin could critique rock and rap, but no one was seriously considering country.  EW was the first mass market magazine to present Garth Brooks just as he was turning into the number one singing star and the many others coming out of Nashville.  There were countless times when I’d read about an album or a new musical act in EW and think I should check it out.  It did not approach classical or jazz and it flirted with world music as a genre, but dropped it by the mid ‘90s.  It also dropped anything to do with computers, which was smart because Wired could present something that was broader than initially imagined and which required an entire industry to understand its importance.

Lisa Schwartzbaum
     EW had a remarkable stable of writers at its inception that was comparable to Esquire in the ‘60s including Ken Tucker covering TV, Owen Gleiberman handling movies, a number of good book and music reviewers, and the MVP Lisa Schwartzbaum, who could write about anything in popular culture with joy and wit.  In the ‘00s, Stephen King provided “The Pop of King” column.  I looked forward to it because it was impossible to know what he’d write about next.  His easy-going, but somehow slightly curmudgeonly air, leavened his extensive knowledge of English language highbrow and pop culture forms and his expertise in examining what was artistically and commercially significant.
Few made as big a deal about it, but I thought it was as classic as Pauline Kael’s reviews from 1967 – 1980.  

Blockbuster Movies
     EW had (and has) some blind spots.  It covered theatre only sporadically, but it’s tough to get a handle on a form that is most innovative and excellent in many different cities around the U.S. while only NYC gets the attention for its tent pole productions.  Movies were always put first even as television was more popular and emerged by the late ‘90s as more creative.  EW bought into the big studio crap wrought by Hollywood after X-Men (2000) and Spiderman (2002) became blockbusters and producers and directors turned to comic books as their salvation with instant storyboards.  The indie film movement that EW championed in the ‘90s was left in the dust by the mid ‘00s.

Stephen King Exit
     I began to sour on EW after King’s column concluded, Schartzbaum left a couple of years later, followed by Gleiberman, and writers like Mark Harris were no longer being asked to write columns.  The newer writers weren’t as knowledgeable (nothing pre-dates 1985 in their world and 1967 is Reviewer Year One to them) and the editorial pieces began obsessing about everything since its 1990 inception.  The overall look of the publication changed from sensible and readable with some classic covers such as the Seinfeld ensemble posed like The Beatles and, a decade later, a stunning shot of Julianne Moore for the year end round up.  In the last couple of years, the font is practically unreadable, the photographic reproductions are so muddy they look like something out of a bog, and the layout is purely fugly.  Parochial schools did a better job with mimeographed publications back in the early ‘70s (as I’ve said, an era that no longer exists for the current writers).  Most of the covers pander the latest Hollywood dregs.

     Oh well, one hates to dwell on the negative.  In its prime (1995 – 2008), EW was right up there with the best magazines of various eras.  Unfortunately, it’s hit a rough patch that may be its New Normal.  Rolling Stone hasn’t recovered since the U.S. found idealism too expensive in 1980, Esquire hasn’t located a new mojo since the late ‘70s when the last of its significant writers licked up the gold of the West Coast, and Living might as well have given up after Martha Stewart served her prison term.  Two major magazines have somehow kept it together:  The New Yorker, probably because it’s such a literary behemoth and O because Oprah still keeps her eye on where it is and how that relates to how it started.

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