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Critical Access: How Marketing, Interviews, and Relationships Can Affect Criticism

Very Good TV Podcast: Can too much access be a bad thing? IndieWire critics debate how to balance professional relationships and honest criticism when it comes to covering TV.

The Handmaid's Tale  -- "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum" Episode 104 --  Punished by Serena Joy, Offred begins to unravel and reflects on her time with Moira at the Red Center. A complication during the Ceremony threatens Offred’s survival with the Commander and Serena Joy. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

George Kraychyk/Hulu

Do you know who’s reviewing your favorite TV show?

Of course not. Who pays attention to a critic? Just click on the review, skip down to the grade or rating (What? There’s no grade? Worthless!), leave a disparaging comment that will eat away at the author’s soul, and go about your life in blissful ignorance.

But what might be affecting that grade at the bottom of a painstakingly crafted 800-word review is how well the TV show’s marketing department is doing its job. Marketing is everywhere, and carefully honed messages constructed by a team of talented individuals trying to sell you on a TV show can seep through to everyone — even critics.

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Those messages — filled with praise, targeted phrases, and SEO-friendly keywords like “Channing Tatum” — are even more lethal when coming from the mouth of a real person, and many TV critics these days spend half their time locked in a windowless basement watching screeners and the other half facing the cold light of the world while coming face-to-face with those responsible for making TV.

In other words, critics interview talent all the time, and stars, producers, writers, and directors are all ready, willing, and able to convincingly push the best angles of their show.

So, the question becomes: How should TV critics handle it?

It’s tricky, especially when the most effective marketing is the kind you don’t notice, but there are ways. As ludicrous as this might sound: the more, the better. It takes insight gained from experience to push past talking points and identify when you’re being sold a bill of goods. Moreover, the more time you spend with A-list celebrities, the more you see them as people. And people are fallible. People can be critiqued.

Yet what’s most important is a strong understanding of your own opinion — your own arguments, reference points, and subjective thoughts — before you’re exposed to marketing. Like movie critics who refuse to watch trailers, TV critics can shut themselves off from the hype machine if they work at it, and that allows unbiased and interesting critiques to flourish.

Of course, there are plenty of other strategies, opinions, and talking points, so go ahead and listen to IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers debate the issue in this week’s Very Good TV Podcast (above). Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes, and follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news. Check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.

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