Tom Shales, TV critic both respected and feared, dies at 79

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, June 16, 2024

Tom Shales, TV critic both respected and feared, dies at 79
An undated photo of television critic Tom Shales, provided by Tom Zito/Little, Brown. Shales, the Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic for The Washington Post whose scalpel-sharp dissections of shows he deemed dead on arrival earned him nicknames like the Terror of the Tube, as well as a reputation for the power to make or break shows, died on Jan. 13, 2024, in Alexandria, Va. He was 79. (Tom Zito/Little, Brown via The New York Times)

by Alex Williams

NEW YORK, NY.- Tom Shales, the Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic for The Washington Post whose scalpel-sharp dissections of shows he deemed dead on arrival earned him nicknames like the Terror of the Tube, as well as a reputation for the power to make or break shows, died Saturday in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 79.

James Andrew Miller, a longtime collaborator and friend, said he died in a hospice facility from complications of COVID.

Despite toiling in a political town far removed from the coastal capitals of the entertainment industry, Shales wielded enormous influence during his three-decade career, starting in 1977, as the Post’s chief television critic.

Those whose fortunes were tied to the small screen considered him both a kingmaker and a high executioner in an era when network television’s hold on American culture was so tight as to be almost crushing.

“He has been called brilliant, thoughtful, incisive and screamingly funny,” Time magazine observed in 1981, christening him “Terrible Tom, the TV Tiger.” “Also, vicious, infuriating, cruel and unfair. NBC president Fred Silverman no longer returns his calls. His thrice-weekly Washington Post TV column, ‘On the Air,’ syndicated in 59 other newspapers, causes teeth-gnashing in Hollywood and heartburn in Manhattan’s network headquarters.”

To celebrate Shales’ 25th anniversary at the newspaper, the Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham, arranged a party at her house that was attended by the likes of Dan Rather, Connie Chung and Conan O’Brien. Graham explained the star-studded turnout in a single word, according to a report in Washingtonian magazine: “Fear.”

No wonder. Delivering prose so colorful it seemed to be written in neon, he had the power to devastate.

In a 1987 review of “The Morning Program,” CBS’ latest attempt to compete with the “Today” show, he wrote that “some TV shows seem to call less for a review than an exorcism.”

“Watching it was like waking up and finding the house overrun with last night’s party guests,” he continued, “most of them stewed to the gills and gabby as all get-out.”

In a 2005 column about ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” he wrote that it seemed like little more than an assemblage of “scenes from medical shows of the past already restaged ad infinitum and ad nauseam,” and that it was “a ‘new’ show only in the sense that Dr. Frankenstein’s monster was a new man.”

After he teed off in 2003 on the Fox teenage drama “The O.C.” as a “moody, moon-faced trifle,” the show fired back with a hospital scene featuring a patient named Tom Shales, who is incontinent. “I consider it an honor,” Shales said in an interview with the Page Six gossip section of The New York Post. “It’s a TV critic’s only shot at immortality.”

He was a magnet for furious phone calls from sitcom stars and network titans. “So-and-so would call, and he’d tell me, ‘Get on the other line, this is going to be good,’” Miller, who worked on the television team at the Post with Shales in the 1980s, said in a phone interview. “This person literally would be just cursing him out for 20 minutes, and he’d be sitting there trimming his fingernails. If you hooked him up to an EKG, there would be no movement whatsoever.”

While Shales’ reviews could be acidic, his indignant salvos came from a place of passion. In a 1989 interview with public radio host Terry Gross, he recalled his thoughts as a child when his family finally got a 14-inch RCA set in a mahogany console: “This was a miracle, this was the Second Coming and nirvana all rolled into one.”

At 13, he wrote a school paper outlining the steps he planned to take to become a television columnist when he grew up. “He formed this bond with the medium so early,” Miller said. “It was the love of his life.”

When Shales would do one of his brilliant takedowns, Miller said, “he wasn’t trying to destroy the show or the writers.”

“He was just angry because he knew it could be better. He had no patience for people who were phoning it in or reaching for the lowest common denominator.”

The shows he loved, he loved. In 1990, he called “Twin Peaks,” director David Lynch’s eerie and unsettling small-town drama, “a captivating blend of the existential and the pulpy, the surreal and the neo-real, the grim and the farcical.” “Twin Peaks,” he added, “is new age music for the eyes.”

In a 2006 column, he wrote that David Simon’s gritty HBO crime drama “The Wire” “might be the most authentic epic ever seen on television.” “You go to ‘The Wire’ not to escape,” he added, “but to be immersed in a world where madness and sanity can seem interchangeable.”

As Shales told Time: “People who respect TV are the ones I respect. It’s the ones who wipe their feet on it whom I probably write nasty things about.”

Thomas William Shales was born Nov. 3, 1944, in Elgin, Illinois, the middle of three children of Clyde Shales, who ran a towing service and body shop, and Hulda (Reko) Shales, who managed a clothing store.

He served as co-editor of his high school newspaper and went on to become the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper at American University in Washington, where he graduated with a degree in journalism in 1968.

His first full-time job in journalism was at The D.C. Examiner, a free tabloid, where his verbal gymnastics caught the attention of editors at the Post, who hired him in 1972 as a general-assignment reporter. Focusing his sights on television and popular culture, he became the chief TV critic five years later.

The job landed him in the middle of swirling controversies about the toxic state of television, with its blood-soaked detective dramas, sensationalized news shows and sex-addled sitcoms — which, in the view of many pundits, were a source of cultural rot.

Shales was all too happy to wade in up to his thighs. In response to a spate of leering television movies at the dawn of the 1980s involving torture, child molestation and teenage prostitution, he wrote that “watching prime-time TV is like being trapped in Sleaze City’s tackiest honky-tonk.”

“One gets a warped and depressing view,” he added, “of what it means to be alive.”

His sharp-eyed takes won him a Pulitzer for criticism in 1988.

While his Post column never waned in influence, Shales, who was making more than $300,000 a year thanks to his Post salary and his syndication revenues, took a buyout from the Post in 2006 after a management transition. He continued to contribute columns under contract until 2010.

In addition to his Post columns, he published a number of books, including two oral histories with Miller: “Live From New York,” a history of Saturday Night Live” (2002), and “Those Guys Have All the Fun,” about ESPN” (2011).

Shales, who never married or had children, leaves no immediate survivors.

Having spent years in his Washington Post office with three televisions flickering nonstop, and with another three televisions glowing at his home in McLean, Virginia, Shales told Time that sometimes even he tuned out on the programming at hand. “After all,” he said, “only about 2% of what’s on is worth really watching.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

January 18, 2024

New York reconsiders Capitol artworks that offend Native Americans

A new body of work by Cindy Sherman now on view at Hauser & Wirth

Brent Sikkema, influential gallerist, is found dead in his Rio apartment

Asya Geisberg Gallery relocates Tribeca

Cooke Latham Gallery opens group exhibition: Marking Time

James Cohan now represents Diane Simpson

French artist duo Tursic & Mille open exhibition at Almine Rech, New York

Debut solo exhibition of newly represented artist Kasper Sonne on view at Maruani Mercier

Newcomb Art Museum to open exhibits exploring new acquisitions, Black labor and folk art from the American South

The Museum of Craft and Design appoints Nora Atkinson as the new Executive Director

Woody Auction's many auctions throughout the past year led of course by fine cut glass

Jaime Lauriano's first solo exhibition in the United States 'Why don't you know about Western remains?'

Second solo exhibition of renowned ceramicist Mitsukuni Misaki at Ippodo New York after six years

Following success of London exhibition, Carpenters Workshop Gallery presents 'Seeing Things' by Gareth Mason

'One Year! Photographs from the miners' strike 1984-1985' open at Martin Parr Foundation

Monterey Museum of Art celebrates Chicanx artistry and California's agricultural legacy

Neon, video and photography combined in 'anatomies d'un monde' by Marie José Burki

'Atelier dell'Errore: Die Werkstatt' includes commissions of gold leaf frieze for Palazzo Torlonia

Ellen Harvey's Traveling Project "The Disappointed Tourist" opens at Rowan University

Tom Shales, TV critic both respected and feared, dies at 79

Brian Barczyk, a reptile evangelist on YouTube and TV, dies at 54

Charlotte St. Martin to step down as president of Broadway League

Ana María Hernando transforms tulle in major Madison Square Park installation

The final guide to LML Full Delete Kit and 2019 Cummins Delete Kit

Unlock Jackpot Success: Why Gacor Slots Are a Hit in Indonesia

Duct Cleaning Company in San Antonio

Tiny Spaces, Big Impact: Smart Storage Solutions with Small Shelves

Brand Building 101: The Role of Consistent Advertising in Establishing a Strong Identity

"Digital Photography: An Exploration of Market Growth and Industry Dynamics"

Insta Pro APK Download Latest Updated Latest Version For Android 2024

Unlocking the Secrets of Gacor Thailand: Discovering Link Slot Gacor

Rudy Semah & Elad Muskatel at Hagada Hasmalit, TA

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful