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),Β  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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2:29pm

Thu May 9, 2013
Television

In A Cluster Of New Sitcoms, 'Family Tree' Stands Tall

In the new HBO series Family Tree, Chris O'Dowd (above left, with the series' writer-director-producer Christopher Guest) stars as a guy who has just lost his job and girlfriend and fills the void by looking into his family genealogy.
HBO

Christopher Guest, co-creator with Jim Piddock of the new HBO comedy series Family Tree, obviously is having a good time making this show β€” and it's contagious. It's several shows in one, and every element is a self-assured little delight.

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1:02pm

Mon April 22, 2013
Television

'Rectify': An Ex-Con Navigates The World Outside

Originally published on Wed April 24, 2013 11:05 am

Daniel (Aden Young) finds a supporter in the devout Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) β€” if not among all of his other neighbors β€” when he's exonerated after spending more than 19 years in prison for a crime he did't commit.
Sundance Film Channel

Rectify, a new drama series from the Sundance Channel, wants to stand out from the pack β€” and it certainly succeeds at that. It's a six-hour limited series, more along the British model of TV than ours here in the States. If these first six installments catch on enough, the story will continue. If not, that's it.

And Rectify is so unusual a show, with its own deliberate pace and premise and approach, that it may not build enough viewership to keep going. But that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile show, or a memorable one β€” because it is.

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3:28pm

Tue April 16, 2013
Movie Reviews

'Central Park Five': Rape, Race And Blame Explored

A courtroom sketch from the first trial in the Central Park jogger case shows prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer (standing on right), the victim (on the stand) and defendants Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray (on left). The high-profile case is the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five, airing on PBS this month.
Daniel J. White PBS

Ken Burns has said that no matter what subjects he tackles in his documentaries β€” baseball or jazz, Mark Twain or the Civil War β€” they always seem to boil down to two things: "race and place."

That's certainly true with his latest film, The Central Park Five, which tells of the violent assault and rape of a female jogger in 1989. The place was New York City β€” and because of citywide racial tensions at the time, the story was seized upon by New York tabloids and national TV newscasts alike.

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1:04pm

Wed April 3, 2013
Television

This Spring, Rejoice At Rebirth Of 'Mad Men'

We won't give away any of the details about his personal life, but we can say that the two-hour season premiere of Mad Men shows Don Draper (Jon Hamm, right, with John Slattery's Roger Sterling) as his silver tongue fails him.
Frank Ockenfels AMC

For decades, when broadcast television called the shots and dominated the TV landscape, the biggest event of the year was "the fall season," when networks would unveil their new shows and return with fresh episodes of old favorites. But now, because of cable and satellite TV, the fall season isn't the only game in town.

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1:54pm

Thu March 21, 2013
Television

You Can't Trust HBO's 'Phil Spector,' But You Can Enjoy It

Originally published on Thu March 21, 2013 2:37 pm

Helen Mirren and Al Pacino star in the new HBO film Phil Spector, which was written and directed by David Mamet.
Phil Caruso HBO Films

The HBO movie Phil Spector is a production that demands attention because of the heavyweight names attached. First, of course, there's the subject of the drama: Spector himself, the man who invented the "wall of sound," and recorded hits for everyone from the Crystals, Darlene Love and Ike & Tina Turner to the Beatles and the Righteous Brothers. Oh, and who also went on trial, in 2007, for the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson.

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1:56pm

Mon March 18, 2013
Television

Two New TV Dramas Look Below The Surface

Elisabeth Moss (right) and Thomas Wright star in Jane Campion's new series Top of the Lake.
The Sundance Channel

Top of the Lake, a new seven-part miniseries premiering tonight on the Sundance Channel, was co-created and co-directed by Jane Campion, who teamed with Holly Hunter 20 years ago on the movie The Piano. Hunter is back for this new project, playing a mysterious New Agey guru of sorts. She's started a small commune for emotionally damaged women, on a remote strip of land in New Zealand.

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1:05pm

Wed January 30, 2013
Television

'House Of Cards' Is Built To Last

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 9:06 am

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star in the new Netflix original series House of Cards, which premieres Feb. 1.
Patrick Harbron Netflix

This week brings two new high-profile drama series. One is The Americans, premiering Jan. 30 on the FX network; it's about sleeper KGB agents living in the U.S. during the Reagan era. The other is House of Cards, a new series premiering Feb. 1.

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1:19pm

Mon January 21, 2013
Television

Kevin Bacon, Seeking A TV 'Following'

Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 1:46 pm

Jeannane Goossen and Kevin Bacon star as FBI special agents tracing a network of serial killers in Fox's new crime drama The Following.
Fox

In the new Fox TV series The Following, Kevin Bacon plays a former FBI agent asked to help apprehend an escaped serial killer he once put behind bars. The show is from Kevin Williamson, who also created the Scream horror-movie franchise.

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8:33am

Fri January 11, 2013
Television

Season Two Brings Changes For 'Girls'

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 3:25 pm

Lena Dunham's series Girls, which follows the lives of a group of young women in New York City, returns to HBO this month.
Jessica Miglio HBO

Of all the cable comedies returning with new episodes Sunday, Girls is the most ambitious β€” as well as the most unpredictable, and occasionally unsettling.

When thirtysomething premiered on ABC more than 25 years ago β€” yes, it's been that long β€” that drama series was both embraced and attacked for focusing so intently on the problems of self-obsessed people in their 30s. What that drama did for that generation, Girls does for a new one β€” and for an even younger demographic, by presenting a quartet of young women in their mid-20s.

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2:16pm

Thu January 3, 2013
Television

'Downton' Returns With Aristocratic Class And Clash

Social changes, romantic intrigues and financial crises grip the English country estate in the third season of Downton Abbey, starting Sunday on PBS. Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Cora's wealthy American mother, Martha Levinson.
Nick Briggs Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for Masterpiece

Downton Abbey, the drama series about the residents and servants at a grand estate in early 20th-century England, has done for PBS what the commercial broadcast networks couldn't achieve last year. It generated a hit show β€” one with an audience that increased over its run and left fans hungry for more. And that's a lot of hunger because when the second season was televised here in the states, it averaged 7 million viewers, more than most TV shows on any network, cable or broadcast.

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1:49pm

Fri December 14, 2012
Movie Reviews

Behind The Scenes Of The Beatles' 'Magical Mystery Tour'

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 3:01 pm

The Beatles look out of the Magical Mystery Tour coach skylight, on location in England in September 1967.
Apple Films Ltd Channel Thirteen

On Friday night on PBS, Great Performances presents a documentary about the making of a Beatles TV special from 1967 β€” Magical Mystery Tour β€” then shows a restored version of that special. Magical Mystery Tour has the music from the U.S. album of the same name, but it's not the album. It's a musical comedy fantasy about the Beatles and a busload of tourists taking a trip to unknown destinations.

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1:06pm

Tue December 4, 2012
Television

Boxes Of TV Fun, Old And New, For The Holidays

The new five-DVD, one-CD box set The Incredible Mel Brooks is crammed full with comedy gold β€” and includes Brooks and Carl Reiner (above) doing their iconic skit "The 2,000-Year-Old Man."
William Claxton Demont Photo Management, LLC

I'm biased, of course, because I'm a television critic β€” but to me, giving someone a gift of a TV show you yourself enjoyed tremendously is somehow very personal. You're giving something that you love, and that in many cases will occupy many hours, if not days, of their time. And during that time, they'll occasionally be reminded of you.

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1:22pm

Fri September 28, 2012
Television

Fall TV's Returning Series: A Cause To Rejoice

Originally published on Fri September 28, 2012 2:05 pm

A phone call from her former boss, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), delivers Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) back into the action of Homeland's second season.
Ronen Akerman Showtime

Right now, as we near the end of the 2012 fall TV premiere week, there's a tendency for a sense of weariness to set in. So many of the new TV series are so bad this year, and not one of them is outstanding. It tends to get a little depressing.

But then you think about the rich bounty of returning series, and how good television drama has gotten lately, and there's cause to rejoice all over again.

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2:48pm

Thu September 13, 2012
Television

New Shows Hit Average In Fall TV Lineup

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 2:58 pm

Mamie Gummer stars as the title character in Emily Owens, M.D., the best new show on broadcast television this fall.
Jack Rowand The CW

Last year, the broadcast networks didn't do well at all when it came to new series development. We got ABC's clever Once Upon a Time, which was about it for the fall crop, until midseason perked things up with NBC's Smash. Otherwise, a year ago, all the exciting new fall series were on cable, thanks to Showtime's brilliant Homeland and FX's audacious American Horror Story.

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12:21pm

Mon May 14, 2012
Television

Johnny Carson Gets The 'Masters' Treatment

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

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

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 β€” 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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12:10pm

Wed April 25, 2012
Television

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 β€” 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 β€” but it sure got a lot of attention.

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10:40am

Fri April 13, 2012
Television

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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11:54am

Fri March 30, 2012
Television

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

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

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

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 β€” based on the George R. R.

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10:52am

Fri March 23, 2012
Television

'Mad Men' Returns, Cocky And Confident As Ever

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

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

Yes, it was worth the wait. Absolutely. Mad Men returns Sunday with a two-hour season premiere β€” 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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10:46am

Wed March 14, 2012
Television

Traveling To The Corners Of Our 'Frozen Planet'

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

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

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

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11:39am

Thu March 8, 2012
Television

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

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11:57am

Thu March 1, 2012
Television

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 β€” 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 β€” but his mind, or at least his subconscious, is split.

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12:24pm

Fri February 24, 2012
Television

25 Years Later, 'The Singing Detective' Still Shines

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

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

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 β€” and, in his mind, he's the healthy, good-looking protagonist β€” the singing detective.

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10:31am

Wed February 8, 2012
Television

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 β€” 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 β€” and by the time the programs are over, the winners are apparent.

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10:49am

Fri January 27, 2012
Television

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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11:00am

Wed January 25, 2012
Television

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 β€” a widower β€” raising a withdrawn preteen son with behavioral problems.

But it doesn't begin with Sutherland.

It begins, instead, with the son β€” Jake, played by David Mazouz β€” 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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8:06am

Mon January 16, 2012
Television

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

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

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

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

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10:52am

Thu January 12, 2012
Television

Bill Moyers Is Back On TV β€” 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 Β©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 β€” 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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11:35am

Tue January 10, 2012
Television

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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11:52am

Fri January 6, 2012
Television

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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