Bianculli Picks The Best (And Worst) TV Of 2010 Fresh Air's TV critic rounds up the hottest and the nottest of the year that was. Worth watching? A BBC America import about a choir director teaching people to sing. Jersey Shore? Makes Bianculli want to shower.
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Bianculli Picks The Best (And Worst) TV Of 2010

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Bianculli Picks The Best (And Worst) TV Of 2010

Bianculli Picks The Best (And Worst) TV Of 2010

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today and tomorrow, we're going to be talking with our critics about their 10-best lists. Tomorrow, film critic David Edelstein and rock critic Ken Tucker will be with us. Today, our TV critic David Bianculli is here to talk about the best and the worst TV shows of the year.

Hi, David. I always look forward to talking with you about the year in TV.


GROSS: So let's start with this: Was it a good year?

BIANCULLI: Yes, lots of good shows. It was not so good a year for the broadcast networks. They sort of went backward. But for cable and overall, a very good year.

GROSS: And what made it good?

BIANCULLI: More good shows coming from cable networks, continuing shows that remained good. Just in assembling a top 10 this year, the only difficulty was limiting it to anything close to a top 10. It could have been a top 20. It could have been a top 30 - whereas, you know, not too many years ago, getting to a top 10, you were being generous with the bottom ones on the list.

GROSS: Well, let's get to your top 10 and see what's on it.

BIANCULLI: Okay. Here's my top 10, which I actually stretched out, if this is okay, to a top 12. I just couldn't leave some of them off.

GROSS: Uh. Okay.

BIANCULLI: But I'll talk quickly, so it'll all be in the time of a top 10, if that'll - but here we go, in no particular order, except for alphabetical: "Breaking Bad" on AMC, "The Choir" on BBC, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central, "Dexter" on Showtime, "Friday Night Lights" - which starts on DIRECTV and goes to NBC - "Glee" on Fox; "The Good Wife" on CBS, "Mad Men" on AMC, "Modern Family" on ABC, "Rescue Me" on FX, "True Blood" on HBO and "30 Rock" on NBC.

So at least the broadcast networks, each is represented here, which is kind of surprising, given how good everything else is. But boy, there's a lot of stuff that just missed the cut.

GROSS: I don't mean to sound critical, David.

BIANCULLI: It's okay.

GROSS: You stretched the 10 best to a 12 best, and yet...

BIANCULLI: And yet what did I not put in?

GROSS: "The Colbert Report."

BIANCULLI: Again, again, I know, and I should have remembered that last year you slapped me around for "The Colbert Report." I know. I know. But I sort of figure Jon Stewart is sort of like grandfathering a little bit the spirit of Colbert.

GROSS: That's not fair to Colbert. I'm sorry.

BIANCULLI: All right. Okay. All right. My top 13...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: ...would include Colbert.

GROSS: So while we're on the subject of "The Daily Show," what makes Jon Stewart such a special and important figure in television now?

BIANCULLI: I am fascinated by how valuable his show is and how entertaining it is, that I not only laugh at it, but I learn from it. You know, when he does media criticism, he does it smarter than most people that are doing it out there, and even when he has guests on and does interviews, you know, he does a good job with those, too.

GROSS: Do you want to play an example of that?

BIANCULLI: Love to. He had a sitting president, Barack Obama, sitting down opposite him and interviewed him, and just listening to the question and how he listens to the answer gives you a sense of how good he is.

GROSS: Let's hear it. So this is Jon Stewart with President Obama.


(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): You expressed some frustration with those on the left that are still feeling dissatisfied. Do you think, in any way, the expectation was something that maybe even you and your campaign created? Were people being naive in the sense of - I remember very clearly you said, you know, we can't expect different results with the same people.

President BARACK OBAMA: Right.

Mr. STEWART: And I remember when you hired Larry Summers...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...I remember thinking: Well, that seems like the exact same person, and why would you...

Pres. OBAMA: Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: in some respects, I get your frustration with this idea that, well, geez, are you never satisfied? But again, the expectation, I think, was audacity, going in there and really rooting out a corrupt system. And so the sense is: Has reality of what hit you in the face when you first stepped in caused you to back down from some of the more visionary - like bringing a guy like Larry Summers, like...

Pres. OBAMA: First of all, the - if you look at how we have handled this financial crisis...

Mr. STEWART: Right.

Pres. OBAMA: ...if you'd told me two years ago that we're going to be able to stabilize the system, stabilize the stock market, stabilize the economy, and, by the way, at the end of this thing, it'll cost less than one percent of GDP, where the S&L crisis cost us two and a half percent of our entire economy, a much smaller crisis, I'd say: We'll take that, because we saved taxpayers a whole lot of money...

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: And in fairness, Larry Summers did a heck of a job trying to figure out how to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You don't want to use that phrase, dude.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: I was...

GROSS: David, why did you choose that clip in particular?

BIANCULLI: There's two things I loved about it. In the question, you know, there's a criticism, there's a pointed direction, but there's an intelligence to it.

And then during the answer, he's - he, being Jon Stewart, is actually listening so carefully to the answer, rather than just thinking about what his next question's going to be, that he pounces comedically on the you don't want to be saying heck of a job, which makes it a great moment of television.

GROSS: You know, in talking about "The Daily Show," I want to ask you about one of the outcomes of the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity in Washington.

And one of Jon Stewart's points at the rally - and it's a point he's made on his show, as well - is that the cable news networks, specifically Fox and MSNBC, are amping up partisan anger and partisan disagreements through taking partisan positions on their show, as opposed to more, you know, neutral, journalistic discussions, and to which some other people - and I think specifically Rachel Maddow on MSNBC - responded: A, she thought the criticism was unfair to MSNBC, but B, that - and I think a lot of people share this opinion - that Jon Stewart, on his show, through his satires, his very funny, very observant satires, isn't exactly being, like, polite and civil and courteous in the way that he would like to see the news channels become, to which he answers: Well, I'm a comic. I'm not a journalist.

I wonder what you make of his response, that he's kind of exempt from his own criticisms because he's a comic, not a journalist.

BIANCULLI: Well, I think the one thing that he's exempt from is that when he calls the president "dude," he can do that as a comic. But in the rest of it, I don't give him any exemption, whatsoever. I think that he's - he is a journalist, by my definition, and asking questions and preparing for interviews and structuring interviews and conducting them not only as a journalist should, but as few journalists on television do. So I don't give him a free pass by saying he's a comic. He's too good for that.

GROSS: So getting back to your top 10 or 12 list.

BIANCULLI: Thirteen - Stephen Colbert, can't forget. Yeah.

GROSS: Yes, which includes "The Daily Show," this - one of the shows on your list, I'm embarrassed to admit, I've never even heard of, and that's "The Choir."

BIANCULLI: Don't be embarrassed. Most people haven't. Most people certainly didn't watch it. This was just something that was imported by BBC America. I absolutely fell in love with it.

Gareth Malone is a choirmaster, a young guy in his 20s who just went first to various schools, and then to a downtrodden community and just got everybody together, formed a giant choir and then, using the clout of television, you know, had them perform during a performance at Royal Albert Hall, for example. And you got to see how...

GROSS: This is like a reality show.

BIANCULLI: It's a reality show. It's a reality show, but it's how these students, how these community members, how the kids' parents, how everybody was just transformed by the simple power of music. It was a reality show where nobody was trying to hog time just to get on the air or to become a star.

It was more like what I think of as just a straight documentary, where you're just watching the process. And it was so uplifting. Half the time, you know, I was so encouraged watching this, and lots of episodes, I actually cried. So there.

GROSS: What kind of music did they sing?

BIANCULLI: They sang - there were adaptations of Police music. There was old madrigal stuff. They went all over the map. But it was just saying: Here's music. Let's enjoy it. And pulling people with raw talent and getting, like, you know, street rappers that wouldn't have anything to do with the program at first and showcasing them as part of an arrangement, and just bringing people together. It's just a nice thing for television to do.

GROSS: So, of course, the choir makes me think of another program on your top 10 or 12 list, and that's "Glee." Do you think "Glee" is still a good show? Is it holding its own?

BIANCULLI: It tried a few too many very special episodes in its second year.

GROSS: With very special guest stars?

BIANCULLI: With very special guest stars, or just using the music of very special people. So, you know, you had not only a Madonna episode, you had a Lady Gaga episode, and you had all these sorts of things.

But I still really like the show, and I love its uniqueness, and I love what it says - it's probably the best show that television has ever presented in terms of gay characters, and I think that's valuable.

GROSS: My guest is our TV critic David Bianculli. We'll talk more about the best and worst TV shows of the year after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're looking back on the year in television with our TV critic, David Bianculli, who's brought his list of the best and worst shows of the year.

"Friday Night Lights" is on your top 10 list. I think that's one of those shows where the people who watch it absolutely love it, and everybody else doesn't even know it exists.

It's funny. It's been on for several seasons. Why do you think it hasn't caught on to a larger audience, given how beloved it is among the people who actually watch it?

BIANCULLI: Part of it is that it began on NBC, which, at the time, didn't have too many good shows to try to promote it around or pair it with. And then NBC was going to cancel it, and kept it going only by making a deal with DIRECTV, a satellite company, and they shared production costs, but DIRECTV gets it first.

So TV critics, people like myself who have satellite and who want to write about things and watch them when they first come out, we've all talked about, you know, "Friday Night Lights" already. It's on right now. The final season finale on DIRECTV will be on in February, and then it's only after that that NBC will begin spooling out the season.

It's not only one of the best family dramas on television now, it's one of the best family dramas that's ever been on television.

GROSS: So when NBC broadcasts it after DIRECTV, it's on on Friday nights, which I think, for most adults, is not a great night for television, and traditionally, it's not where networks put their best series.


GROSS: So does it matter anymore where a TV show is, or are people basically, you know, recording it on their DVRs and watching it back?

BIANCULLI: Two separate questions, and they're both really good ones. It ended up on NBC on Friday night because NBC lost faith with it, and as you say, Friday night is like a graveyard. So you cut your losses, you know, by putting in on Friday, which is like life support for television, Friday and Saturday night.

But the other question, as to whether time slots matter anymore, they do if a program is going to survive, but they don't for the way more and more people are watching television.

And that's going to change - that, to me, I think, is probably the biggest issue of the year, is that that is changing. You know, for all of network television, that's starting to matter less.

GROSS: Yeah, because people are either recording it, or they're waiting till it comes out on DVD, especially if it's, like, on HBO, and they don't subscribe.

So how are the TV networks measuring who's watching so they can decide how much to invest in the show, if it's become so hard to measure and if the measurement is spread out over time because, like, the show might be watched in six months or in a year when the DVD of the season comes out?

BIANCULLI: Yeah, they're trying - they're doing it badly. They're trying to do it. They're doing a viewing plus seven, you know, so that if it's recorded and then watched within the week, and they can tell that from the systems that they have...

GROSS: Can they tell that? Like, if I DVR it, they know? Yeah?

BIANCULLI: Yes. Then it counts. Oh, yeah. It's Big Brother. Yeah. It's Big Brother. They know. They know whether you watch the commercials or zip through them.

GROSS: They really know that?

BIANCULLI: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And they know what you're wearing, Terry. No, no, that's...

GROSS: Do they like me any less if I zip through the commercials?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: No, they figure that even to zip through the commercials, you have to look at them. And so the people who make commercials are making more of them visual, with more graphics, so that you actually see the stuff even if you go through it.

GROSS: Oh, that's interesting, because there's some commercials where I'm actually reading while the commercial's on. So I have no idea what it's for, because there's so little that's said about it.

BIANCULLI: Yes. Well, that's why.

GROSS: That's why. Okay. Now, "The Good Wife" is an example of a relatively new network TV show. It's on your 10 best list. Why is it there? What works about it?

BIANCULLI: Well, the acting works. The writing works. But what - I really want to support it by putting it on there is that this is old-style network television.

You know, one of the thoughts that's out there is that one of the reasons why networks are succeeding is because they can spend so much more money, they have so much more freedom to say things, to show things, that there's no way to do a compelling drama under the constrictions, you know, financial and editorial, of broadcast network TV.

But then you say: Well, look at "The Good Wife." It does it just fine. So that's as simple as that.

GROSS: And "Rescue Me," which is ending, I think, at the end of this season?

BIANCULLI: Yeah, "Rescue Me" and another FX program, which didn't make my top 12 or 13 or 10, or whatever this is was "Damages" - I mean, just really good shows that are not getting the attention that they deserve.

"Rescue Me" with Denis Leary has done some really strong stories, some spectacular acting, and Michael J. Fox was one of the guest stars this year, and a great performance.

GROSS: So you'll be sorry to see "Rescue Me" end?


GROSS: When I was growing up, there were very TV channels, and everybody watched the same shows. So you can have the same conversation about TV with everybody because you had, like, three choices or four choices of things to watch.


GROSS: Now you have a zillion choices of things to watch. So there's a few shows that seem to unite America, but only a few. And it's interesting to see which shows actually have an impact on American culture.

And one of the shows that's had an impact, in this very fragmented pop culture period, is "Mad Men." So it's on your 10 best list. What's continuing to make "Mad Men" work?

BIANCULLI: Well, you know, and there's two levels of working. I mean, the audience, the audience that comes to television to see "Mad Men" is only like two, three million. Twice as many people watched "The Walking Dead," which was the zombie series on AMC, as watched "Mad Men."

So raw numbers, it's not, you know, an "American Idol" sort of thing. It's not even a "Modern Family" or, you know, it's not even a "Good Wife."

But what it is that it's in the conversation, wherever you turn. If you turn to the Internet and you're reading Huffington Post, it's on there. If you're reading national magazines, it's there. If you're doing - if you're on network television and the morning shows, it's on there.

GROSS: If you're watching TV, you're likely to hear Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, voicing an ad for Mercedes. It's in advertising. I mean, "Mad Men" has affected the look of ads.

BIANCULLI: Right. And, you know, TV can still do that. What I worry about is I think that if you think of it as canary in the coal mine, fewer shows are doing that every year. We are losing the whole idea of a mass medium with television.

GROSS: Considering that there's a relatively small number of people who watch "Mad Men," why do you think it's had such an effect on the, excuse the expression, zeitgeist?

BIANCULLI: When it showed up, it was like nothing else that was on television. These are always the things that seem to break out. You know, if you're a "Twin Peaks," if you're even a "Walking Dead" from last year, something that isn't like anything else on television has a chance of standing out.

And then for it to succeed and thrive, it has to say something. I mean, "Mad Men" is saying something about that period, but it's also saying something about us in every episode.

GROSS: You have an honorable mentions list that you brought with you, too, shows that didn't make the top 10, but you want to give a shout-out to.

BIANCULLI: It's just a fast one. "Lost" ended this year on ABC. "Rubicon" was not renewed by AMC, and "Walking Dead" was renewed on AMC. And those are all shows that tried to do something unique and creatively succeeded.

GROSS: Tell us something about "Walking Dead."

BIANCULLI: A zombie show based on a comic book. You know, I reviewed it for FRESH AIR, and I was a little nervous. You know, I want to talk about this zombie show. This zombie show is really good. And I was stunned when it got as many viewers as it did. I think AMC was stunned.

But there's something there, and we're in an age where it's vampire everything. So I guess zombies are just claiming their turf.

GROSS: It's interesting how AMC has really revamped its image. It stands for American Movie Channel. It used to only show movies. And now it's doing a lot of series TV, including "Mad Men," "Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad."

BIANCULLI: Yeah. It's denied its past.

GROSS: "Rubicon."

BIANCULLI: It now is just AMC. It's no longer American Movies, although that's still a big bulk of it. But it's doing what FX did, which says if you do one great show - like FX started with "The Shield" - and then you do another great show, and then you do a third one, you don't need a whole network. You don't need seven days. You'll get attention as the network that's taking TV seriously. AMC did it beautifully.

GROSS: Our TV critic David Bianculli will be back in the second half of the show. He's the founder and editor of and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR. Here's music from "Glee."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with our TV critic David Bianculli. We're talking about his list of the best and worst programs of the year, and looking back on the year in TV.

I think there used to be a lot more made-for-TV movies than they are.


GROSS: Like, they were networks that had, like, a made-for-TV movie every week.


GROSS: And that's kind of fallen by the wayside. But there are still, you know, pretty major made-for-TV movies or movie series, like the John Adams thing, that are done. So what happened with made-for-TV movies this year?

BIANCULLI: The best thing that happened was both of them came from HBO. And you're right, except for CBS doing occasional Hallmark specials, the networks - the broadcast networks have basically given this up to cable. But cable, thank goodness, is taking this seriously. HBO gave us "The Pacific," which was the miniseries follow up to "Band of Brothers," and that was excellent, and also gave us "Temple Grandin," which I thought was remarkable. And that was Claire Danes in, basically, what was a biographical drama - the sort of thing the broadcast networks would have done 20 years ago without even thinking about it. But it was done so well. Both of them are out on DVD. So if you need, you know, to add to your library, there you go.

GROSS: David, what do you think were the worst TV shows of the year?

BIANCULLI: I have three that really are so - well, "Outlaw" is the number three. That was Jimmy Smits. And I love Jimmy Smits as an actor. So the fact that he would take on this NBC series and not complain about it, playing a Supreme Court justice who decided to step down in order to achieve real justice by, like, taking on cases one at a time and, like, helping people at night, almost like a crime fighter. It's like, you're on the Supreme Court, and you're going to step down so that you can make a difference? It was just such a mind-blowingly bad idea...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: ...that there was no getting past that.

But my number two most hated show of the year, the general consensus of how to say it is "Bleep My Dad Says," which was based on a Twitter feed that was called something much ruder, scatological "My Dad Says." And they put William Shatner in it, who'd just had this wonderful career revival, you know, with "Boston Legal," and then he has to do this. And it's horrendous.

GROSS: But was it popular? Was it watched?

BIANCULLI: No. It's still on. It's not popular, but it's right behind an incredibly popular program, "The Big Bang Theory," which was moved to Thursday night. So it's in a cush time slot. But if taste had anything to do with it, it would be gone.

Which leads us to...

GROSS: The worst of the year.

BIANCULLI: ...the worst. By far the worst, and one which is going to resonate and have - you know, it's already got imitators, and it will be with us for years and - "Jersey Shore" on MTV. And I just cannot tell you how despicable this show is. It's - it makes me want to shower.

GROSS: Who is behind it, and what else did they do?

BIANCULLI: I don't know that they've done anything else in terms of other credits. Largely, it's MTV, which, you know, as a huge history of building shows around misbehavior.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And, you know, it started with "The Real World," where you would take one person from this sort of subculture and one person from this sort of culture and put them in a room, knowing that they were going to butt heads and argue. And after, like, 20 seasons of that, then you get "Jersey Shore," where it's people who are guaranteed to misbehave and to attract other people who will misbehave, and all for the edification of a viewing audience that learns how to misbehave by watching them. And it's just part of a subculture on MTV where they're doing shows about, you know, people who are demanding the biggest weddings or, you know, running around and - they're teenagers who are pregnant. And there's a glorification of a whole lot of stuff that shouldn't be glorified.

GROSS: Now, I noticed absent from your 10 best list are two of the big HBO shows of the year: "Treme" and "Boardwalk Empire."


GROSS: Is HBO, in your opinion, losing its place in terms of creating, you know, incredible new programs?

BIANCULLI: Well, they're coming back this year, and I liked both of those shows very much. And so I would put both "Treme" and "Boardwalk Empire" as part of an HBO resurgence after a few fallow years. But they just weren't good enough to me because of the high caliber of the top 10 or 12 or 13. But right now, it's really interesting, because HBO used to have bragging rights that were unassailable. But Showtime, in the last few years, has done so many programs, that even though they're far behind in terms of subscribers, in terms of critical acclaim, it's pretty much a big battle right now.

GROSS: What are the Showtime shows?

BIANCULLI: Well, there's - you've got "United States of Tara" and "Nurse Jackie." You've got "Dexter," which is - which made my top 10. You've got new programs which are coming out just in January. And there's an awful lot of development there where Showtime is taken seriously and is taking risks and getting good, creative people involved and having them do the sort of shows you aren't seeing everywhere else on the dial.


GROSS: Last year, you gave your worst program of the year award to the Jay Leno prime time show, the one that was on at 10 o'clock.


GROSS: The one that he left to go back to "The Tonight Show," which forced Conan out of "The Tonight Show."


GROSS: So now they're both on the air, Jay Leno hosting "The Tonight Show," Conan recently debuting with his new show at 11 o'clock on TBS.


GROSS: So what are your thoughts on both of those shows?

BIANCULLI: Leno was an obvious failure in terms of the prime time experiment. But I was so happy that it failed, because it was taking precious prime time hours away, what could have been scripted programming. So am I happy that Leno is back on "Tonight" and more successful, you know, than CBS, which had Letterman, who was gaining on Conan when he was at "The Tonight Show"? No, because people had liked Leno and settled for Leno before, so they were settling for Leno again.

Conan on TBS is going to be a more interesting question. It's already settled in where the audience is about a million, a million and a half. It'll take a while to see whether he can do the freeing things that he wants to do now that he's there.

But what's interesting about all of these shows is how you don't have to watch them to see them. You don't have to stay up late or set a recorder, that if there's three good minutes out of any of these late-night shows, they'll show up and they will get repeated on the Internet. And I worry, well, then, what's the purpose of the one-hour shows past a certain point?

GROSS: Is there a good example of that, of a sketch or a segment that really went viral on the Internet?

BIANCULLI: I brought one example, which is my absolute favorite, and it is a recent one. Jimmy Fallon did an entire hour with Bruce Springsteen as his only guest, and that's an hour that's worth watching all by itself. But as part of that, Jimmy Fallon - who, on several occasions on his show, has imitated Neil Young and does a great imitation of Neil Young - did Neil Young and convinced Bruce Springsteen to do, like, a late '70s-era Bruce Springsteen, and they would do a duet on a song. And the song they chose was Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair." And Willow is the pre-teen daughter of Will Smith, and it was just this novelty song with just ridiculous lyrics, but they take it so seriously. It's one of my favorite moments of television of 2010.

GROSS: I'm so glad you chose this. I actually saw that edition of Fallon's show...

BIANCULLI: Oh, good.

GROSS: ...and I couldn't believe how good he was at doing Neil Young. I mean, he not only gets Neil Young's voice, but he gets those Neil Young notes, those unusual Neil Young notes.


GROSS: And...

BIANCULLI: It's so talent - it's so funny. And it's actually - I've watched it so many times, and I realized I like hearing this. I like this version of "Whip My Hair," you know, and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: have to hear it for yourself and...

GROSS: Let's play it. Let's play it.


GROSS: So this is the Neil Young opening part.


GROSS: Okay. So here's Jimmy Fallon.

(Soundbite of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon")

(Soundbite of song, "Whip My Hair")

Mr. JIMMY FALLON (Host, "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"): (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip it real good. Hop up out the bed and turn my swag on. Pay no to attention to them haters, 'cause we whip 'em all. We ain't doing nothing wrong. Don't tell me nothing. I'm just trying to have fun. So keep the party jumping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Whip it real good.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

GROSS: So that's Jimmy Fallon, doing Neil Young on his show. And Springsteen comes in later.

So, David, finally, what you consider to be the biggest TV story of 2010?

BIANCULLI: It's that television is changing so quickly, that everybody's got to understand what to do next very quickly - the manufacturers of TV sets, the purveyors of the Internet, the producers of programs. It's clear that the younger generation is not watching TV the way the older generation did. They're not even watching on televisions. There's a big race to get television and the Internet on the same one big screen in your living room, because otherwise, there won't be a big screen in your living room anymore. And then the other part of it is that young people aren't watching shows when they're scheduled. And in a lot of instances, they aren't even watching the shows, they're just watching whatever portions of the shows interest them or interest their friends, who then tell them, go see this clip. So you're getting pieces.

So I don't know what's going to happen, but I have a feeling that being in television right now is like owning a video game parlor in the '70s, or Blockbuster - now. You know, it's going away, and somebody's got to figure out what's happening next.

GROSS: What do you do as a TV critic now? There was a time when you started as a TV critic when there was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...there was broadcast networks and UHF...


GROSS: ...channels. And now there's like, you know, hundreds of channels. Do you actually know what's on all those hundreds of channels?

BIANCULLI: I try to. I mean, I still try to figure out what's the best thing to watch each night as one of the things that I do as a TV critic. And that means that I do have to sort of keep track. But it's an endless universe. And the way of seeing these things in advance when I can get them has changed considerably. You know, when I started - when I started...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: know, you would drive to the TV station, sit in a screening room, and they would put up the show. And you would take notes, and then go back and it would be chiseled out in, like, hot type. You know, it's just ridiculous. Now, there are some sites - like if I'm going to watch an ABC show in advance, I go to the ABC media site and watch it on my computer. And I'm irritated because I can't watch it on my big TV set. I have to watch it on my computer. So there's another -you know, there's a reason to pull that all together. But there is so much television coming from so many directions. And even though the 90 percent of it always was and always will be awful, there's more of that 10 percent now that's good, if you dig it out.

GROSS: Well, I think there should be a David Bianculli reality show.


GROSS: Where the camera...

BIANCULLI: I wouldn't watch that.

GROSS: No, the cameras are on you watching TV all the time.


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Wouldn't that be fascinating?

BIANCULLI: I would watch "Jersey Shore" before I would watch my own life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, David, as the founder and editor of, the website that you started after you left being TV critic at the New York Daily News...

BIANCULLI: Daily News. Yeah.

GROSS: How's the website doing, and how is it affecting your impressions of what it means to have criticism on a website, as opposed to in a newspaper?

BIANCULLI: I'm learning about this. There's actually about 15 writers on the site now, and we're all writing about television and we're all finding different things to write about. So it amazes me how it's almost like old newspapers used to be when they would come out with seven or eight editions a day and just update for a sports final. These damn things never stop. You know, there's always more stuff to put on it, and so it's exhausting. But I'm proud of what it's, you know, built into, and it's still one more thing that I'm doing.

GROSS: I always felt sorry for some of my friends who have...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: responsibilities...


GROSS: ...because you constantly have to update it, and it never ends. There's never a time when you say, whoo, I made my deadline.


(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: I know. It's like I made that deadline.

GROSS: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: You know, and then you just wait for something else to happen.

GROSS: Right. Okay.

Well, David, it's always great to talk with you, and thank you as always for hosting the show, as well...

BIANCULLI: Oh, well, thanks.

GROSS: ...on many Fridays. And...

BIANCULLI: I love anything you'll let me do here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So David Bianculli is the founder and editor of

David, let's end with more of that great Jimmy Fallon Neil Young impression, and let's pick it up where Bruce Springsteen comes in.

BIANCULLI: Oh, perfect. Okay. You'll enjoy this, everybody.

GROSS: Okay. Here it goes. This is great.

(Soundbite of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon")

Mr. FALLON and Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth. Just whip it. Whip my hair back and forth. Whip my hair back and forth.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip it real good. All my ladies, if you feel me.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it, whip your hair.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Don't matter if it's long or short.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Do it, do it, whip your hair.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON and Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair.

Mr. FALLON and Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair.

Mr. FALLON and Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip your hair.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth, just whip it.

Mr. FALLON and Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Whip my hair back and forth.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Just whip it.

Mr. FALLON: (Singing) I whip my hair back and forth.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) You got to whip your hair.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Thank you.

GROSS: That's Jimmy Fallon and Bruce Springsteen. Our TV critic David Bianculli teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. You'll find links to David's reviews of the shows on his best of list on our website,

Coming up, our film critic David Edelstein reviews the Coen Brothers' new adaptation of the Charles Portis novel "True Grit."

This is FRESH AIR.

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