The New York Times’ TV coverage has made significant advances since the paper hired former Vulture editorial director Gilbert Cruz to be its TV editor in February, but there was still major one obstacle in the Grey Lady’s way: chief television critic Alessandra Stanley, who tended to treat covering the idiot box as if it was beneath her while simultaneously loading up her reviews with errors of both fact and judgment: Parsing Shonda Rhimes’ shows as the product of an “angry black woman” was one notorious example, but hardly the only one. BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen focused on Stanley in an article titled “Here’s Why the New York Times’ Television Criticism Is So Bad,” and the Columbia Journalism Review reported in 2009 on her “long history of error.”
Well, today there is joy in TV Land, as well as in the hearts of those who’ve long been hoping the Times’ TV coverage would rise to the level of its movie and pop music counterparts. Stanley’s reign of error is no more, as she has been reassigned to a new beat covering, in editor Dean Baquet’s words, “the richest of the rich.” As he writes in a memo posted to the Times’ website:
After a dozen remarkable years as chief television critic, Alessandra Stanley has decided to return to reporting. As part of The Times’s deepening focus on economic inequality in America, she will be creating a new beat: an interdisciplinary look at the way the richest of the rich — the top 1 percent of the 1 percent — are influencing, indeed rewiring, the nation’s institutions, including universities, philanthropies, museums, sports franchises and, of course, political parties and government.
This is a subject both intensely timely and well suited to Alessandra’s skills as an observer, reporter and writer — one that has fascinated her, she says, since she wrote about the first generation of Russian oligarchs as a foreign correspondent in the mid-1990s. Now, she’ll be reporting on what she describes as the “psychology, rituals, costs and contradictions” of a new generation of American titans. Her work will add to The Times’s ongoing reporting on inequality in all its forms. More announcements will come on that front.
There is not enough space here to do justice to Alessandra’s exceptional work as TV critic. She covered the globe, whether the subject was Russian television news — an awkward mix of pro-Putin and opposition stories that she described as “a little bit NPR, a little bit North Korea” — or addictive French crime dramas. Closer to home, she weighed in on election-night coverage, Oscar ceremonies, anchor meltdowns and of course the rise of the golden age of cable dramas. If it was on TV, she was game to write about it. Her insights, wit and rich experience as a political reporter and foreign correspondent tracked a once fading medium as it re-emerged as one of the dominant art forms of the moment.
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades-Ha says there is no timeline for replacing Stanley, although “a search will begin soon.” But there are dozens of TV writers doing first-class work all across the U.S., and it’s about time the New York Times employed one of them.