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.

Pages

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 — 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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 — based on the George R. R.

Read more

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 — 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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 — 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.

Read more

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 — 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.

Read more

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

Read more

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 — 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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 — 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.

Read more

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.

Read more

10:52am

Thu January 12, 2012
Television

Bill Moyers Is Back On TV — And Better Than Ever

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 3:13 pm

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

10:07am

Tue December 20, 2011
Television

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."

Read more

12:29pm

Thu December 1, 2011
Television

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.

Read more

4:01pm

Tue November 15, 2011
Television

Filmmaker Woody Allen Gets The 'Masters' Treatment

Woody Allen's career goes under the American Masters microscope on Sunday and Monday.
MGM/Brian Hamill PBS

Woody Allen: A Documentary is the result, though not the culmination, of three very long and distinguished careers.

First, there's Robert Weide, the writer-director whose examination of Allen's life and art follows similar — and similarly impressive — documentaries on the Marx Brothers, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce.

Read more

11:16am

Fri October 28, 2011
Television

'Primetime' TV, Like You've Never Seen It Before

Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight on The Office, is featured in the new PBS miniseries America in Primetime, which examines the archetypes on television today.

PBS

Almost every time TV takes a look at itself, and tries to explore or explain what it does as a medium, the result is a major disappointment — at least to me. I want TV to take itself seriously, but it almost never does. Every show about TV is either one of those dumb "Top 100" lists that networks like E! and VH1 crank out every month, or it's a show that's built entirely around the guests it can book, the clips it can afford, and the shows on its own network it want to promote.

Read more

11:23am

Wed October 5, 2011
Television

'Breaking Bad,' 'Horror' Leave Viewers Wanting More

Originally published on Tue October 11, 2011 10:05 am

Over the past few seasons, 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

If you don't want to hear details, especially about last night's season finale of Breaking Bad, turn away from this website now. But I consider it fair game to talk in detail about TV shows once they've been televised — especially if they're doing interesting enough work to be saluted for it.

[Note: If the previous paragraph didn't convince you, maybe this will: There are many, many spoilers for Breaking Bad ahead. Proceed at your own risk.]

I was blown away by the season ender of Breaking Bad.

Read more

12:13pm

Tue May 31, 2011
Television

Fangtastic Voyage: 'True Blood' Vampires Live On

Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Layfayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) return to the Louisiana bayou for True Blood's fourth season.
John P. Johnson HBO

[Spoiler Alert: This review touches on some details from season three of True Blood.]

This week HBO releases season three of True Blood on DVD — 12 episodes bringing us up to speed on Sookie Stackhouse, the psychic southern waitress; on Bill Compton and Eric Northman, the two vampires in love with her; and on all the other far-from-normal residents of and around their bayou town. And in a few weeks, on June 26, HBO launches season four of True Blood, which doubles down on its paranormal plot lines.

Read more

11:12am

Thu April 28, 2011
Television

Bullwinkle DVD: Take A Trip In The Wayback Machine

A recent DVD boxed set from Classic Media presents, for the first time, the complete adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and Friends – hundreds of installments of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose, as well as Fractured Fairy Tales, Dudley Do-Right and Mr. Peabody, the genius dog with a pet boy named Sherman. These prime-time TV cartoons go back about 50 years – and TV critic, David Bianculli, says that while watching them all over again, so did he.

Read more

11:57am

Fri April 22, 2011
Television

This Weekend, HBO Has Something For Everyone

Coupled with last week's Game of Thrones premiere, this weekend's HBO lineup really demonstrates the wide range of programming this premium TV service is capable of providing. On Friday, there's a new special, called Talking Funny, in which four top comics spend an hour sitting around and talking comedy.

On Saturday, there's a new made-for-TV movie, called Cinema Verite, which recreates the making of the landmark 1973 PBS documentary series, An American Family, which essentially marked the birth of reality television.

Read more

11:31am

Mon April 18, 2011
Television

Ernie Kovacs: The King Of Early Television Comedy

From 1950 until he died in an auto accident in 1962, Ernie Kovacs created some of the most inventive and unusual television ever made. A new Shout Factor DVD boxed set collects more than 13 hours of the TV pioneer's best and rarest programs. Fresh Air's TV critic David Bianculli, who also teaches television history at Rowan University, couldn't be more thrilled.

Read more

11:27am

Fri April 8, 2011
Television

'Upstairs, Downstairs' Returns To 165 Eaton Place

To me, the only depressing thing about the return of Upstairs, Downstairs — which ran on what was then called Masterpiece Theatre from 1974 to 1977 — is that I reviewed it the first time around. How time flies when you watch too much TV. But I loved it then, and in this new, surprisingly fresh yet faithful sequel, I love it now.

Read more

3:19pm

Tue March 22, 2011
Television

'Mildred Pierce': A Masterpiece Of Modern Film Noir

At the start of the fall TV season, HBO gave us the best new series of the year with Boardwalk Empire, which was set in the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, N.J. This Sunday, HBO launches an ambitious, impressive five-hour miniseries — and as with Boardwalk Empire, it's set during the Depression.

Read more

Pages