In response to Anne Helen Petersen’s history of Entertainment Weekly, founding editor Jeff Jarvis has posted his original seven-page proposal for the magazine to his website. (The proposal is dated 1984, but it took six years for Time to give him the green light.) It’s a fascinating read for what it reveals about how much — and how little — has changed.
The goal of Jarvis’ “ultimate entertainment guide,” he writes, is to “come to the aid of the consumer in a very confusing time. Today, there is simply too much to choose from.” Among the (then-)overwhelming array of choices: Movies; “Network TV and mini-networks”; videocassettes; “Music on radio, on records, on cassettes and now on compact discs”; “And let’s not forget books.”
Intriguingly, especially given Jarvis’ latter-day career as a self-appointed tech visionary, his original plan for EW included reviews of the gadgets which readers would use to consume all this stuff: Not only which CDs to listen to, but which stereo to listen to them on. It’s a shame that fell by the wayside, since in spite of the vogue, then as now, for bigger and better TV screens, audiences have stopped paying much attention to the quality of the viewing and listening experience; good enough is fine.
The section on “Editorial focus” is especially interesting. The magazine must, Jarvis writes, “be provocative and interesting,” and review sections should be organized around the voice of a single critic so the readers can build an ongoing relationship him or her — exactly what the present-day EW has forfeited by losing or getting rid of longtime critics like Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum and Ken Tucker.
Even better is the response from Time, Inc. head Henry Grunwald, which in hindsight seems about as on-point as reports of smooth sailing for the Titanic:
The market for entertainment is so broad that I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a single magazine or guide for it. For instance, the people who watch television are not necessarily the people who read books….
Cassette reviews? Hardly needed weekly and perhaps not even monthly; I suspect that people are satisfied with the handouts they get in video shops and the occasional reviews in other publications….
Movie reviews? Plenty of those everywhere. Besides (and this is a very minor issue) I doubt there is really a broad market for Jarvis vision of opinionated and provocative reviews. I suspect the majority of movie goers don’t pay any attention to reviews, although critics hate to admit it.
Read Jeff Jarvis’ complete proposal for Entertainment Weekly and Time, Inc.’s response below.