The Good: The occasionally good photograph or article
The Bad: Information is easily available elsewhere, Overpriced for what it is.
The Basics: An overly simplistic magazine, TV Guide should be a casualty of faster, freer mediums like the internet; the only surprise is that it hasn't gone under yet.
I try to be very thorough in my reviews of magazines, but sometimes it's just not worth the effort to actually delve into the deep problems with a publication. Some magazines are simply bad. Ever since TV Guide went from its half-page format (the size it was for decades and I grew up seeing and buying in grocery stores) the quality of the magazine (already dubious to begin with) has diminished drastically. Now, it is closer to the more traditional proportions of a magazine but its worth is absolutely destroyed by the power of the internet.
Published weekly, TV Guide is published in two parts: the national distribution portion and the local section. Each issue is specific to the locality it is mailed to or sold in based upon the television viewing area the location is part of. The national portion is the only truly useful part to discuss for the purpose of a review as there are over one hundred different "localities" that define the local viewing areas of the rest of the magazine. TV Guide has a remarkably reliable record of printing accurate listings for television shows that are playing at any given time on television.
Why, then, do I find TV Guide to be so very worthless? First, TV Guide is relatively short publication. There are only about ten pages of articles in the issues these days and they are never breaking news. TV Guide is constantly trumped by on-line sources and it appears with cover stories each week with news about television shows that has already been on the Internet for at least five days. In other words, fans of television shows who care enough to look into the lives of their celebrity favorites or their returning shows will likely already have the information that TV Guide prints.
TV Guide is known for highlighting the new television shows and the celebrities associated with them. The problem is, these days, TV Guide merely reinforces the most vacuous portions of television and pop culture. Unlike in prior days when the magazine would actually take a stand for something with genuine quality - I remember when Nothing Sacred and Sports Night (reviewed here!) appeared as cover stories in the years they were on as "The Best Television Show You're Not Watching," the former being an especially ballsy choice - now TV Guide seems more concerned with selling copy by promoting the shows that are already doing well. So, it is absolutely no surprise that as sweeps began, there was a cover story on Gray's Anatomy and that reality programs like Dancing With The Stars and American Idol get frequent cover treatment when they return to air or approach finales. In short, a serious defect with the magazine is that it does not give anything like equal treatment (or even diverse treatment) to all types of shows, instead it just tends to focus on the most popular shows.
TV Guide is light on everything, usually focusing on a series and a celebrity each issue. Stars whose careers are on the decline use the magazine to highlight their new work and interviews in TV Guide are never hard-hitting. So, for example, when nominations for Emmy Awards come out, underdog candidates will try to get into TV Guide to boost their chances with the voting. Unlikely actors, like when William Shatner started to get noticed by the Academy, used TV Guide to draw attention to their long careers on the hopes that their new work would actually stand a chance of getting the win.
Even the photographs in TV Guide are often scooped on the internet, in no small part to TV Guide online, which tends to leak some of its own content early. In recent years, TV Guide has started using more publicity photos. So, instead of having candid shots of celebrities on-set, they rely more and more on studio-released photographs which act almost like advertisements because the studios can airbrush and alter the pictures to their liking before the magazine ever gets them.
TV Guide is very simple in its diction, intended to be read by people who prefer watching television to actual reading. Articles are simple and ones about television shows tend to have an inordinate amount of plot recap which fans of said shows will usually already be privy to. The magazine is also pretty heavy with advertisements for television shows and in recent years, it seems like major networks have realized the diminishing influence of TV Guide as they print fewer big ads for things like "Must See T.V." (NBC's Thursday night comedy line-up) or "T.G.I.F." (ABC's Friday night line-up). Those curious about their favorite television shows or the stars of them now have innumerable resources, from studio webpages to fan-run fan club sites on the internet and those who truly care about their television shows are likely to consult them. But even the IMDB now has television listings and just by typing in your ZIP Code there, you can get the same local information TV Guide once provided.
In essence, TV Guide is an outdated use of the magazine medium and those who truly love television have so many other options to get the exact same information. There is no good reason any longer to pay for what is so freely available on-line. And for those not actually reading the interviews and articles "unique" to the magazine ought to be able to find the same content in the local newspaper wherever they are watching television.
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.