First Mover: Matt Zoller Seitz | Adweek First Mover: Matt Zoller Seitz | Adweek
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First Mover: Matt Zoller Seitz

'New York' magazine's new TV critic isn't afraid to take tough stands on reality shows like 'Jersey Shore'

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

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Have you been surprised at any of the comments you’ve gotten about what you’ve written so far?
I don’t feel like Indiana Jones in front of the boulder at New York magazine. Everything that happened at [ex-employer] Salon is like what happened on the island of Lost. There were people who would comment on everything. On one level it was terrifying, but it was kind of nice. There were people who cared about every little thing.

You’re not a fan of Jersey Shore. Are you prepared to take heat from its big fan base among the magazine’s readers?
I have very particular tastes when it comes to reality TV. Just because people are stupid enough to be exploited doesn’t mean you should take advantage of them. My idea of a good reality show is like Survivor, where it’s goal-directed and they have to use their minds to solve problems.

You have a soft spot for doomed shows like Pan Am and Community. Do you hope that by writing about them you can save them?
I want people who make these shows to know someone appreciates what they’re doing, even though they’re not quite pulling it off. I’m 43 years old. I want to see things I haven’t seen before. I think Pan Am is trying to be extremely rich and extremely light at the same time. They haven’t quite mastered the art of making a soufflé every week.

I hear you’re going to start doing video essays for New York.
It’s one of the reasons they brought me in here. I’m going to be doing a breakdown of sequences of television shows. Three years ago, I started doing video essays for the Museum of the Moving Image. The format is great—it’s head and shoulders above anything you can do in print.

It’s an interesting time for comedy, with acclaimed shows like Modern Family and Community but also bombs like Two and a Half Men and Rob.
It’s never a good time for comedy. This is like every other time. But this is an extraordinary time for drama. I think it’s because mainstream Hollywood movies are deader than Julius Caesar.

Why in this day and age do we still have laugh tracks?
I don’t know. Everyone uses a laugh track. I just love the fact that a lot of the laughs you hear are people who are long since deceased. They were probably laughing at Jackie Gleason.

Not at Ashton Kutcher?
It’s very sad. When they lost the prince of darkness, I think they lost the show.

Do you have an all-time favorite character?
I think my first was Archie Bunker. He was the first TV character I thought could actually exist. [All in the Family characters] didn’t seem like creations from a magical fairyland. It was edgy, but not in that modern, boring way. What they do now is leach out all of the politics and culture stuff and leave the sound of the toilet flushing.

Did you have any TV limits as a kid?
In terms of time, no. It was the ‘70s. We didn’t have cable. When I talk to my own children about television as a kid, it’s like I’m talking about life in Sierra Leone in 400 B.C. It’s barbaric to them.

Do you have any TV-watching traditions with your own kids?
Certain shows I watch every week with my 14-year-old daughter, who’s a film student. We watch Glee, most of Breaking Bad, or, as my daughter calls it, “Father-daughter bonding through drug-related violence.”