Ongoing Coverage:

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.

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Television
11:34 am
Wed December 24, 2014

Bianculli's Top 10: 2014 Was A 'Good Year For Programming'

Allison Tolman plays Deputy Sheriff Molly Solverson in the FX TV series Fargo. It's a breakout role for the actress who had done only theater and commercials.
Chris Large

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 12:46 pm

Although it wasn't a great year for the shows themselves, it was a good year for programming, says TV critic David Bianculli.

"In terms of what was happening on television, in terms of new and old formats and new, exciting players coming into the mix – [it was] another good year," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I'm actually kind of encouraged."

Bianculli reflects on how far TV has come.

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Television
1:51 pm
Tue December 2, 2014

Peter Pan's Magic Is In The Pixie Dust

In Peter Pan Live, Christopher Walken plays Captain Hook. David Bianculli says Walken has credibility that should draw people to the live telecast on Thursday.
Virginia Sherwood NBC

Originally published on Tue December 2, 2014 2:15 pm

NBC devotes all three hours of its prime-time lineup Thursday to a new production of the musical Peter Pan. It will be performed and broadcast live, nearly 60 years after the first live telecast.

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Television
12:25 pm
Mon November 17, 2014

Holy Smokes 'Batman,' The '60s Series Is Out On DVD

Unlike later incarnations of Batman, the '60s version was tongue-in-cheek.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Originally published on Mon November 17, 2014 3:31 pm

If you're an impressionable young kid hitting your teens right now, chances are pretty good you've been watching and enjoying some Batman — either Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's just-completed Dark Knight trilogy, or the prequel series, Gotham, now showing on Fox. If you came of age a generation ago, your Batman of choice was likely to have been the big-screen caped crusader played by Michael Keaton or George Clooney. Or maybe even Val Kilmer.

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Television
1:48 pm
Fri October 31, 2014

In The Life Of 'Olive Kitteridge,' It's The Little Things That Add Up

Richard Jenkins plays Henry, Olive's husband.
JoJo Whilden Courtesy of HBO

Olive Kitteridge, a new two-part, four-hour miniseries that runs on HBO Sunday and Monday, sounds like the kind of long-form dramas TV used to make back in the '70s and '80s when miniseries ruled. Like them, Olive Kitteridge covers an entire generation in the lives of its characters — a 25-year span — but otherwise, it couldn't be more different. Most of those sprawling classic miniseries were set against major historical events, and were as much about passionate romance and glamorous costumes as anything else.

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Television
2:16 pm
Tue October 21, 2014

Nostalgia, Now Out On DVD, With 'Wonder Years' And 'Pee-wee' Releases

On The Wonder Years, Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) had a crush on his neighbor Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar).
Courtesy of Scoop Marketing

Originally published on Tue October 21, 2014 5:50 pm

At the moment, we're at yet another pivotal point in the history of home entertainment, which keeps changing with sudden — and major-- tectonic shifts. Just ask Blockbuster Video: Videocassettes for home libraries gave way to DVDs, which now seem to be giving way to streaming video and the cloud.

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Television
1:06 pm
Fri October 10, 2014

Inconsistent Memories Are Revisited In 'The Affair,' A Captivating New Drama

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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Television
1:53 pm
Fri October 3, 2014

'Homeland' Regains Urgency With Twin Protagonists And Divided Loyalties

Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison on Homeland. Season 4 begins Sunday on Showtime.
Joe Alblas Courtesy of Showtime

Season 4 of the Showtime drama Homeland begins Sunday — and it begins with a very significant change. Claire Danes is back as Carrie Mathison, the gifted but troubled CIA agent with bipolar disorder. But her co-star for the first three seasons, Damian Lewis, who played former prisoner-of-war and suspected traitor Nicholas Brody, is not.

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Television
5:58 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

In 'Transparent,' A 70-Year-Old Divorced Dad Comes Out As A Woman

Jeffrey Tambor plays Maura on the new drama Transparent on Amazon Prime.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Originally published on Sat September 27, 2014 4:00 pm

Thanks to Netflix, many of us are familiar with the concept of new TV series that premiere not on broadcast or cable television, but on a streaming entertainment service. And Netflix isn't the only streaming service getting into the act. Starting Friday, Amazon Prime subscribers have access to the entire first season of a new series called Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor.

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Television
3:55 pm
Thu September 18, 2014

'Madame Secretary' Pales In Comparison To 'The Good Wife'

Originally published on Thu September 18, 2014 4:39 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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Television
12:38 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

3 Roosevelts Come Alive In PBS Documentary, Ken Burns' Best Yet

In this undated photo, Theodore Roosevelt waves to a crowd.
Library of Congress

Originally published on Wed September 10, 2014 2:28 pm

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his most resonant and famous line during his presidential inauguration speech of 1933: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief, that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It was resonant because he was being defiant, and optimistic, in the face of the Great Depression — and it was famous because it was broadcast live, to the entire nation, on the relatively new medium of radio.

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Television
3:13 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

In 'The Chair,' Two Filmmakers Make Movies From The Same Script

One of the competitors on The Chair is Anna Martemucci, a graduate of New York University film school who has written and acted before, but never directed.
Helena Lukas Martemucci 2014 Chair One Productions

Originally published on Thu September 4, 2014 10:18 pm

Here's where I stand on so-called reality TV. All those shows that are built around people misbehaving to get attention and claw for fame — in other words, all those Real Housewives shows, and every Big Brother and any show like it — I have absolutely no use for.

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Television
2:15 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

Case Closed: Agatha Christie's Detective Poirot Solves His Last TV Mystery

David Suchet plays Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie's Poirot. The last season premiers Aug. 25 on Acorn TV.
Courtesy of Acorn TV/ITV

Originally published on Wed August 13, 2014 2:24 pm

Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920. It featured fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who proved the most popular of all her mystery-solving characters. Hercule made his final appearance in 1975, in the novel Curtain — and this month, nearly a century after he first appeared in print, the mystery series completes its lengthy run as a TV series, still starring David Suchet in the title role.

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Television
3:37 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

Stick With 'The Knick,' A Medical Drama With Amazing Inventions

On The Knick, the graphic scenes are riveting, says David Bianculli, though at times you may want to look away. Here, Clive Owen's character administers a shot.
Mary Cybulski Courtesy of HBO/Cinemax

The first impression of The Knick, the new 10-part drama series that begins this weekend on Cinemax, is that it seems derivative. It's about a maverick doctor played by Clive Owen who's rude to almost everyone around him — like the abrasive hero of Hugh Laurie's Fox series, House. He works at a hospital in a big city, in the shadow of bigger hospitals, fighting for attention and respect — like the doctors on St. Elsewhere. The title The Knick, in fact, is short for Knickerbocker Hospital, and is as derisive a nickname as "St.

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Television
2:52 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

How Interactive TV Is Older Than TV Itself

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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Television
2:09 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

Maggie Gyllenhaal Is 'The Honorable Woman': A Series Both Ruthless And Rewarding

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein in the SundanceTV original series The Honorable Woman.
Des Willie Courtesy of Sundance

Originally published on Thu July 31, 2014 2:34 pm

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in a new eight-part miniseries that couldn't be more timely: It's about a woman who finds herself embroiled in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

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Television
1:46 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

'The Strain' And 'Extant' Play On Fears Of Forces Out Of Our Control

The threat is both viral and vampire in The Strain, a show about the sudden outbreak of a disease that kills most of its victims — then begins to mutate them into another species entirely.
Michael Gibson FX

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 3:02 pm

They say every generation gets the science fiction it deserves, built around its biggest and most primal fears. Well, maybe they don't say that — but they should. In the '50s, all those movies about mutant giant monsters going berserk were a way for us to channel our fears about the atomic bomb. In the same way, in that same decade, all those body-snatcher movies were about being unable to tell friend from foe, or trust even your closest loved ones — the perfect paranoid parable for the Communist witch-hunting era.

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Pop Culture
2:43 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

A-List Celebrities Flock To Late-Night 'Graham Norton Show'

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 10:39 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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Television
11:38 am
Fri May 23, 2014

HBO's 'The Normal Heart' Looks At The Early Days Of The AIDS Crisis

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 12:27 pm

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli. Sunday night, HBO presents a new TV version of "The Normal Heart," Larry Kramer's 1985 play about the early years of the AIDS crisis. Kramer himself wrote the screenplay adaptation, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts. Almost 30 years later, the drama is both presented and viewed differently. It almost has to be.

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Television
12:31 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

'The Maya Rudolph Show' And What It'll Take To Bring Back Variety

The Maya Rudolph Show premiered Monday night with guest appearances from Sean Hayes, Fred Armisen and Andy Samberg.
Paul Drinkwater NBC

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 5:40 pm

On Monday night, NBC presented The Maya Rudolph Show, a one-hour prime-time variety special executive produced by Lorne Michaels and featuring many of their mutual Saturday Night Live cohorts, including Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell. It also co-starred Kristen Bell, Sean Hayes and singer Janelle Monae. The Maya Rudolph Show was an intentional effort to bring back the old-school TV variety show, but with a new-school slant that bathed most of the show in a distancing self-awareness.

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Television
11:11 am
Fri May 9, 2014

'Penny Dreadful' Is Wonderful, But 'Rosemary's Baby' Is Dreadful

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 2:19 pm

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli. This weekend two very different TV productions attempt to do much the same thing - revisit old works of literature in the horror and suspense genre and adapt them with new approaches for a new generation. NBC's four hour miniseries version of Ira Levin's "Rosemary's Baby" barely justifies the attempt.

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Television
12:37 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

'Hill Street Blues' Created Two Eras For TV Drama: Before And After

Among Hill Street Blues' many innovations, says David Bianculli, was focusing on a large ensemble cast instead of one or two central stars. Pictured here: Veronica Hamel as Joyce Davenport, Daniel J. Travanti as Capt. Frank Furillo and Robert Prosky as Sgt. Stan Jablonski.
David Sutton NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 1:49 pm

It's very easy, and not at all inaccurate, to divide dramatic series television into two eras: before Hill Street Blues — which has just been released on DVD in its entirety for the first time -- and after. Before NBC televised Hill Street in 1981, most continuing drama series were presented as stand-alone, interchangeable hours starring the same characters. Every week, TV detectives Joe Mannix or Theo Kojak or Tony Baretta would investigate a crime, catch the villains and wait for next week to do it again.

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Television
1:33 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

FX's 'Fargo' Is Neither Remake Nor Sequel

Originally published on Tue April 15, 2014 4:05 pm

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The FX cable network premieres a new drama series tonight. It's called "Fargo" and has the same title as the 1996 Coen brothers movie. Our TV critic David Bianculli says it's a wonderful show in that same wacky spirit, but he says it's just as important to note what this new "Fargo" is not. It's not a remake, and it's not a sequel.

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Television
11:28 am
Fri April 11, 2014

Without Giving Too Much Away, Here's What We Can Say About 'Mad Men'

Mad Men — starring Jon Hamm as Don Draper — returns for its seventh and final season Sunday on AMC.
Michael Yarish AMC

Originally published on Fri April 11, 2014 2:38 pm

This review discusses the plotline of Mad Men, up through the end of Season 6.

Matthew Weiner's Mad Men begins its seventh season Sunday on AMC. Every season, as this outstanding period drama has made its way through the 1960s, Weiner has been increasingly insistent about the things he doesn't want critics to reveal in advance. This year, that confidentiality wish list is almost laughably long, and includes not only the year in which the story resumes, but also specifics about certain relationships — both professional and personal.

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Television
1:06 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

'Parenthood' Is Hard, But NBC Gets This Family Drama Right

Family dramas have always been one of television's most difficult genres to do properly, without getting too sweet, too overwrought, or too predictable — but NBC's Parenthood finds the right balance. Above, Ray Romano as Hank, Mae Whitman as Amber, and Lauren Graham as Sarah.
Colleen Hayes NBC

Originally published on Tue April 8, 2014 3:41 pm

During a recent Fresh Air review of the CBS series The Good Wife, I referred to it as one of my "go-to" shows whenever anyone asks me to name a drama series on broadcast TV that's as good as the ones on cable these days. Ever since, I've wanted to give equal time to my other go-to choice. That show, now winding up its fifth season, is NBC's Parenthood.

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Television
2:28 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

HBO Fills Sunday Night Lineup With Entertaining Power Struggles

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 3:48 pm

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. This Sunday HBO presents the season premiers of two returning series - "Game of Thrones" and "VEEP" - and launches a new series, a Mike Judge comedy called "Silicon Valley." Our TV critic David Bianculli has seen them all.

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Television
10:11 am
Fri March 28, 2014

'The Good Wife' Delivers A Game-Changing Stunner

Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 1:20 pm

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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Television
1:48 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

When Your Best Friend Is A Star — And You're Her Minion

Dolly Wells (left) and Emily Mortimer have been real-life friends since childhood. Now they're co-starring in an inside-showbiz comedy airing on HBO.
HBO

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 2:29 pm

HBO has done very well in the past with comedy series that explore and expose the inner workings of show business, from Garry Shandling in The Larry Sanders Show to Ricky Gervais in Extras. Wednesday night, the network presents its newest entry in that self-obsessed Hollywood genre: Doll & Em, a British comedy series that's a vanity production in the most literal sense of the word.

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Television
1:06 pm
Fri March 14, 2014

NBC Hostage Drama 'Crisis' Takes Viewers On A Rare TV Trip

Lance Gross plays Marcus Finley. Think of him as the show's Jack Bauer.
Vivian Zink NBC

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 3:44 pm

When I slipped in the preview DVD to watch the opening episodes of NBC's new drama series Crisis, which premieres Sunday, I have to admit I wasn't expecting much. Oh, there was some anticipation in seeing Gillian Anderson of The X-Files in a series lead again; but I wasn't sure whether we'd be getting the demand-your-attention actress from such marvelous British imports as Great Expectations and Bleak House, or the underused supporting actress from NBC's Hannibal.

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Television
2:03 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

With Humor And A Nod To History, Fallon Takes Over 'The Tonight Show'

Jimmy Fallon took over as host of The Tonight Show on Monday. "I hope I do well," he told the audience. "I hope that you enjoy this."
Theo Wargo Getty Images for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Opening nights of new incarnations of late-night TV talk shows are good, mostly, for first impressions — or, in the case of Jay Leno, sometimes a second impression. It's not fair to make strong judgments on the content alone, because a first show always is top-heavy with ideas, special guests and nervousness. But it is fair game to judge the set, the environment, the overall mood, and how well the host fits into the history of late-night television.

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Television
12:51 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

In 'Whole Gritty City,' Marching Bands Vie For Coveted Mardi Gras Spots

Eleven-year-old Jaron "Bear" Williams practices trumpet before marching in his first Mardi Gras season. The Whole Gritty City follows young student marching bands as they prepare for coveted spots in the New Orleans parade.
Courtesy of CBS

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 3:51 pm

There are times when television really does try to put its best foot forward — promoting a new fall season, for example. But it's an almost twisted rule of TV that sometimes, the better a television offering is, the more likely it is to be shown when even the network presenting it doesn't think many people will be watching.

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