David Bianculli

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.

From 1993 to 2007, Bianculli was a TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Bianculli has written three books: Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 2009),  Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously (1992), and Dictionary of Teleliteracy (1996).

An associate professor of TV and film at Rowan University in New Jersey, Bianculli is also the founder and editor of the online magazine, TVWorthWatching.com.

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Television
12:21 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Johnny Carson Gets The 'Masters' Treatment

Fifty years ago, Johnny Carson became the host of The Tonight Show.
NBC/Photofest PBS

Originally published on Mon May 14, 2012 1:15 pm

Johnny Carson walked away from The Tonight Show, after 30 years at the top of the late-night ratings, of his own volition. And except for a few fleeting TV appearances after he retired, he never looked back — and never went back. When filmmaker Peter Jones would send an annual letter to Carson, asking for his cooperation in a TV biography of him, the answer was always no. One year, Carson went so far as to explain why: Let the work, he said, speak for itself.

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Television
12:10 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

I, David Bianculli, Highly Recommend 'I, Claudius'

Patrick Stewart co-starred in the BBC series that spanned the history of the Roman empire from Augustus through Claudius.
Acorn Media

I, Claudius came to American television, imported from the BBC, in 1977 — the same year as another ambitious long-form production, ABC's Roots, which proved to everyone that miniseries were an exciting and extremely popular new form of television. I, Claudius, shown on the PBS series Masterpiece Theatre, didn't get anything close to the audience that Roots did — but it sure got a lot of attention.

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Television
10:40 am
Fri April 13, 2012

Lena Dunham's 'Girls' Navigate New York City Life

Girls has been compared to Sex and the City. The characters, played by Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet, navigate the ups and downs of life in New York City.
HBO

This Sunday, HBO premieres a new comedy series that's written and directed by Lena Dunham, who grabbed the media spotlight in 2010 with her film Tiny Furniture. She's 25 years old now, and stars in this new TV series as well.

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Television
11:54 am
Fri March 30, 2012

'Thrones,' 'Killing' Return ... And Revert To Old Habits

Game of Throne's Peter Dinklage returns to the Lannister kingdom more influential than ever, thanks to a scroll that gives him power by proxy.
Paul Schiraldi Paul Schiraldi Photography

Originally published on Fri March 30, 2012 1:36 pm

AMC's The Killing started strong, with raves from critics and an impressively loyal core of viewers. But in the final episode of the year, when it left its season-long murder mystery intentionally unresolved, most fans felt angry, even betrayed. HBO's Game of Thrones, on the other hand, took a bit longer to get established, and to get as much attention. But thanks to some strong performances and a few bold strokes of plot, Game of Thrones — based on the George R. R.

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Television
10:52 am
Fri March 23, 2012

'Mad Men' Returns, Cocky And Confident As Ever

Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, celebrates his 40th birthday in the fifth season of Mad Men.
Frank Ockenfels AMC

Originally published on Fri March 23, 2012 11:04 am

Yes, it was worth the wait. Absolutely. Mad Men returns Sunday with a two-hour season premiere — and by the time it's over, if you react the way I did, you'll be satisfied and even comforted to have spent two wonderful hours with the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

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Television
10:46 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Traveling To The Corners Of Our 'Frozen Planet'

An Adelie penguin male builds a stone nest in anticipation of the females' arrival. The males compete over the precious stones, often resorting to stealing to get the best ones.
Jeff Wilson Discovery Channel/BBC

Originally published on Fri March 16, 2012 11:47 am

I don't want to complain about Frozen Planet, however, until I dish out a little praise.

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Television
11:39 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Is 'Game Change' Fair To Sarah Palin? You Betcha

Ed Harris and Julianne Moore star as Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in the HBO made-for-TV movie Game Change, based on a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 presidential race.
HBO

There are times when TV dramas about national politics and politicians deserve criticism, even ridicule, for their fast-and-loose narratives and characterizations. Recent miniseries about the Reagans and the Kennedys, loaded with unsubstantiated dialogue and action, are only two very fresh examples.

But Game Change — HBO's new take on the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign — is entertaining, and commendable, precisely because it stays so close to the facts, not because it strays from them.

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Television
11:57 am
Thu March 1, 2012

It's High Concept, But Will It Keep You 'Awake'?

In the new NBC drama Awake, Jason Issacs plays Michael Britten, a man who survives a car accident along with one of his loved ones — but which one?
Michael Desmond NBC

The premise of NBC's new detective series, Awake, is about as high concept as it gets. Jason Isaacs, one of the leads of Showtime's Brotherhood, stars as Michael Britten, who survives a horrible car crash intact. Well, his body is intact — but his mind, or at least his subconscious, is split.

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Television
12:24 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

25 Years Later, 'The Singing Detective' Still Shines

Gambon's character slips in and out of feverish dreams in which his doctors and nurses start to sing and dance.
BBC

Originally published on Fri February 24, 2012 2:15 pm

The Singing Detective is the story of a writer of pulp-fiction novels, hospitalized for a horrible skin condition that has his entire body flaking and raw, and his mind slipping in and out of fever dreams.

Some of those hallucinations have the people around him breaking into song, or shifting into other places and times and characters, or both. He tries to maintain his sanity by rewriting, in his head, one of his old novels into a Hollywood screenplay — and, in his mind, he's the healthy, good-looking protagonist — the singing detective.

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Television
10:31 am
Wed February 8, 2012

Two Rowdy Talk Shows Showcase Vintage Humor

Writers for Sid Caesar include Mel Brooks (front, lower right corner) and Neil Simon (back row, upper left corner.)
courtesy of Michael Hirsh

The two DVDs I want to talk about today are hilarious, but they aren't sitcoms. They're talk shows — well, one's a talk show, and one's a filmed seminar. But they're both fascinating examples of a specific pop-culture moment frozen in time.

And they're something else as well: Both are highly entertaining real-time examples of talk-show Darwinism. Both shows feature a large, unwieldy guest roster, all of the guests competing for attention at the same time — and by the time the programs are over, the winners are apparent.

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Television
10:49 am
Fri January 27, 2012

HBO's 'Luck': A Winning TV Show, Set At The Track

Nick Nolte plays a horse owner who spent most of his career working as a horse trainer in Luck.
HBO

It isn't a long shot that David Milch's newest series for HBO, called Luck, will be on par with his HBO series Deadwood. It's a sure thing. HBO sent out all nine episodes of the show's first season for preview, so there's no guesswork here.

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Television
11:00 am
Wed January 25, 2012

A Boy's Magical 'Touch' Predicts The Future

When Kiefer Sutherland ended his series of very long, very intense days as Jack Bauer on the Fox series 24, few people, including Sutherland himself, expected him to be starring in another TV series right away.
Fox

The new Fox series Touch stars Kiefer Sutherland as a father — a widower — raising a withdrawn preteen son with behavioral problems.

But it doesn't begin with Sutherland.

It begins, instead, with the son — Jake, played by David Mazouz — providing the narration that opens the series. By the time the opening narration is over, you already know you're watching something a little different.

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Television
8:06 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Get 'Lost' In J.J. Abrams' Latest Show 'Alcatraz'

In the two-hour premiere episode of Alcatraz, Rebecca (Sarah Jones) looks for clues to a missing prisoner from the 1960s who suddenly reappears in modern day.
FX

Originally published on Mon January 16, 2012 8:29 am

Let's begin with Justified – because, frankly, that's the one that's got me the most excited.

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Television
10:52 am
Thu January 12, 2012

Bill Moyers Is Back On TV — And Better Than Ever

Bill Moyers began his career in journalism as a junior reporter at the Marshall News Messenger in Marshall, Texas.
Peter Krogh ©Peter Krogh

It's one of my favorite TV moments of this year. On Tuesday, the night of the New Hampshire primary, Stephen Colbert had Bill Moyers as his special guest on The Colbert Report. Moyers was there to publicize his return from retirement and the launch of his new TV series, Moyers & Company. Colbert booked him to help him do just that — but as his on-screen persona Stephen Colbert, the pontificating political conservative, he was there to throw good-natured verbal punches.

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Television
11:35 am
Tue January 10, 2012

A New 'Morning' On CBS, But Will It Work?

CBS This Morning is co-hosted by Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill.
John P. Filo CBS

There are three new hosts of CBS This Morning, which was unveiled yesterday. One is Erica Hill, a holdover from The Early Show, the previous program in the early-morning time slot. Another is Gayle King, still best known as Oprah Winfrey's best friend, who's here to handle most of the entertainment interviews. And the third, the pivot point, is Charlie Rose, brought over from PBS to give this new show an injection of instant respectability and seriousness.

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Television
11:52 am
Fri January 6, 2012

This Weekend, Some New Shows (And Old Favorites)

Don Cheadle plays business consultant Marty Kaan in the new Showtime comedy House of Lies.
Jordin Althaus Showtime

The New Year brings with it new TV programming, and this Sunday is an especially busy one for television. Two new series premiere, while one miniseries and several other series return.

But because it's a new year, let's start with the new shows.

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Television
10:07 am
Tue December 20, 2011

Bianculli Picks The Best (And Worst) TV Of 2011

Over the past few seasons, Breaking Bad's Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has changed from meek hero to forceful villain. TV critic David Bianculli says he isn't just breaking bad anymore — he's entirely broken.
Gregory Peters AMC

Fresh Air's TV critic David Bianculli liked so many shows this year that he says he couldn't pick just 10 favorites. Instead, he split his favorites into several lists, including best documentaries and best scripted comedies/dramas.

Bianculli also highlights some of the worst shows to hit TV screens this year — including not one but two shows featuring Snooki.

Despite his Snooki misgivings, Bianculli says it was a banner year for TV.

"There is more good television on a weekly basis than there has ever been," Bianculli says. "I am absolutely certain of it."

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Television
12:29 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

At Midseason, Serial Dramas Serve Up Some Big Twists

Showtime's Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall, just served up the biggest twist of the season to date.
Randy Tepper Showtime

By now, I hope my position on spoiler alerts is firmly established. My feeling is that once something has been televised, it's fair game for discussion. I feel it's the responsibility of the person who's delaying his or her enjoyment of a TV show to avoid mentions of it, rather than putting the onus on critics. And believe me, I know that's not always easy. I have to do some time-shifting myself — there are so many good shows presented on Sundays this season that it sometimes takes me the whole week to catch up on the episodes I've recorded.

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