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
2:37 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 4:02 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
3:43 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

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

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 11:39 am

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Now that the late-night talk show wars have settled down again, our TV critic David Bianculli says there's a talk show we should be watching that's not broadcast by CBS, NBC or ABC or even Comedy Central. It's "The Graham Norton Show," imported by BBC America and shown on Saturday nights. Here's David's review.

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Television
12:38 pm
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 1:27 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
1:01 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 6:40 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
12:11 pm
Fri May 9, 2014

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

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 3:19 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
1:37 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 2:49 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
2:33 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

FX's 'Fargo' Is Neither Remake Nor Sequel

Originally published on Tue April 15, 2014 5:05 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
12:28 pm
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 3:38 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
2:06 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 4:41 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
3:28 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

HBO Fills Sunday Night Lineup With Entertaining Power Struggles

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 4:48 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
11:11 am
Fri March 28, 2014

'The Good Wife' Delivers A Game-Changing Stunner

Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 2:20 pm

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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Television
2:48 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 3:29 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
2:06 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 4:44 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
3:03 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
1:51 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

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

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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 4:51 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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Television
2:41 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

On TV This Week: 'Babylon' Has Good Fun, 'Detective' Is The Real Deal

IFC's The Spoils Of Babylon follows a sister (Kristin Wiig) and adopted brother (Tobey Maguire) caught up in a passionate romance.
Katrina Marcinowski IFC

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 4:55 pm

Two new miniseries this week are worth special mention — and couldn't be more different.

True Detective, which begins Sunday on HBO, is a combination series and miniseries, kind of like American Horror Story on FX. Each season is designed to tell a different, self-contained story, followed the next year by a new tale with new characters and sometimes even new actors. This first season of True Detective is an eight-hour murder mystery starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, neither of whom is expected to return next season.

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Television
1:39 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

'Downton' Returns, And It's As Rich As Ever

Michelle Dockery's Lady Mary is in deep mourning as Downton Abbey returns for a fourth season on PBS.
Nick Briggs Carnival Film & Television Limited

Originally published on Tue January 7, 2014 7:36 am

When you think about what Downton Abbey has achieved, and is continuing to pull off, it's actually pretty remarkable. In an era when the most acclaimed TV series of the decade is an edgy cable drama about a dying, meth-making criminal, Downton Abbey draws similarly large audiences on broadcast TV — public TV, at that — with an old-fashioned soap opera about servants and household staffers and those they serve. As Season 4 begins on PBS, Downton Abbey is the most popular drama in the history of public television.

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Television
12:54 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

David Bianculli's Top 10 Shows: 2013 Was A 'Good Year For TV'

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Kevin Spacey (left) and Robin Wright star in House of Cards, directed by David Fincher. The Netflix series, which follows a Machiavellian politician, is an adaptation of a BBC series of the same name. Hear an interview with Spacey and Fincher.
Patrick Harbron Netflix

Originally published on Thu January 2, 2014 4:44 pm

This was a good year for TV, says critic David Bianculli, and that had a lot to do with two new shows from Netflix: House of Cards, the American adaptation of the BBC political thriller series, and Orange Is the New Black, a dramatic comedy which takes place in a women's federal prison. "I was very impressed with the overall quality of what Netflix gave us," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "... That was quite a string of good shows."

So, without further ado, here's Bianculli's top-10 TV list for 2013:

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Movie Reviews
2:08 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

Great New DVD Box Sets: Blasts From The Past And 'Breaking Bad'

A new MDV Entertainment boxed set called Here's Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection features the widow of Ernie Kovacs, in shows from her 1962-64 ABC variety series, which was televised just after her husband's death.
AP

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 4:01 pm

Here's a short list of some of the most exciting recent TV offerings on DVD. These are sets you can still order and receive in time for the holidays — and regardless, they're perfect to dive into over the vacation period, enjoying an episode or two a night.

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Television
3:06 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Delightful 'Six By Sondheim' Leaves You Wanting Six More

The life and work of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is examined in Six by Sondheim, a documentary from James Lapine, who also directed several of Sondheim's shows.
Jerry Jackson HBO

On Monday, HBO presents the premiere of Six by Sondheim, a new TV special that's part biography, part music-appreciation lesson and part performance piece. It's all about the life and music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, in which he explains, among many other things, how and why he became a musical theater composer and lyricist, and the inspirations for some of his most familiar songs. If you're new to the works of Stephen Sondheim, this TV special should entice you. If you're already a fan, it should delight you.

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The Kennedy Assassination, 50 Years Later
2:50 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

How Live TV Helped America Mourn The Loss Of JFK

During JFK's funeral, live TV coverage helped make John-John Kennedy's salute an indelible image of American history.
Keystone Getty Images

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Television
1:31 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

'Dancing On The Edge' Is Fun For Both The Eyes And The Ears

Set in London in the early 1930s, Dancing on the Edge is a five-part miniseries about a black jazz band trying to crack the dance halls and radio playlists. Made for BBC-2, the episodes will air starting Saturday night on the Starz cable network.
Starz

Originally published on Thu October 17, 2013 4:52 pm

One of my most enjoyable parts of being a critic is steering people toward something so good, but so relatively obscure, that they might never have checked it out unless they'd been nudged in that direction. My personal best example of that, ever, was the imported BBC miniseries The Singing Detective, by Dennis Potter, about 25 years ago.

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Movies
12:34 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

A Peek Into The Private Lives Of 'Burton And Taylor'

Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter star as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Burton and Taylor, a new made-for-TV movie from BBC America.
BBC America

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 4:20 pm

You have to be of a certain age to remember firsthand the tornado of publicity that erupted when Liz Taylor, the former child star turned screen vamp, first met British stage star Richard Burton on the set of the 1963 movie Cleopatra. But it's still one of Hollywood's most famous and inescapable love stories.

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Television
3:52 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

TV Trips Into Fall, But These Days Who Knows Where To Look?

Capt. Ray Holt (Andre Braugher, right) leads detectives Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) on a police stakeout in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Beth Dubber Fox

We're kicking off a new fall TV season this week. A generation ago, even less, that was cause for major media focus, as new shows from the broadcast networks jockeyed for attention and position while old favorites returned with new episodes. Also back then, the Emmys were a celebration of the best, and clips from the nominated shows reminded you just why they were considered the best of the best.

But now? In 2013? All bets are off.

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Television
11:54 am
Fri August 9, 2013

A 'Curb'-Like Comedy And The Return Of 'Breaking Bad'

Before the midseason break, Breaking Bad's Walter White (Bryan Cranston) had stashed away plenty of drug money, but may have inadvertently tipped off his DEA agent brother-in-law.
Ursula Coyote AMC

Originally published on Fri August 16, 2013 1:55 pm

This weekend, the AMC cable network begins showing the final episodes of its acclaimed drama series Breaking Bad, and launches a new one: Low Winter Sun. Meanwhile, HBO presents its newest made-for-TV movie — this one a comedy, starring and co-written by Larry David.

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Television
1:20 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

This Summer, Vintage TV Shows Thrive On DVD

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is the first in a straight line of teen comedies from the teen point of view. It starred Dwayne Hickman (right) as Dobie and Bob Denver as his best friend, Maynard.
Courtesy of Shout! Factory

Originally published on Mon July 29, 2013 2:27 pm

So much TV, so little time. Even during the summer — when broadcast TV slows down and leaves mostly cable and satellite TV series, and now Netflix, to watch and review — the TV shows on DVD keep coming. And summertime is the perfect time to dive into some of them.

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Television
4:29 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

Laughs And Drama Behind Bars With 'Orange Is The New Black'

Taylor Schilling and Lin Tucci in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Jessica Miglio Netflix

Netflix's original series Orange Is the New Black has two important TV predecessors. One is HBO's Oz, the 1997 men-in-prison drama from Tom Fontana that paved the way for HBO's The Sopranos. The other is Showtime's Weeds, which in the fourth season put one of its central characters behind bars.

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Television
1:23 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

Back For More: Sorkin's 'Newsroom' Is A Serious Standout

Jeff Daniels returns to Aaron Sorkin's HBO series The Newsroom as cable news anchor Will McAvoy.
HBO

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 2:44 pm

The one major change series creator Aaron Sorkin made to The Newsroom between seasons was a structural one. Instead of having each week's show focus on a separate major storyline, this year's edition of The Newsroom follows a single story over the course of the entire season. And it's a season-long plot line in which anchor Will McAvoy and the other employees of the fictional Atlantic Cable News network get one important news report very wrong.

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Television
1:29 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

'The Bridge:' Mayhem On The Border, With Big Issues At Stake

In the new FX series The Bridge, Diane Kruger stars as a detective investigating a murder along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jordin Althaus FX Networks

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 3:37 pm

The FX version of the Scandinavian series The Bridge, like the Showtime version of the Israeli TV series that inspired Homeland, is a major revamp as well as a crucial relocation. With Homeland, the focus became American politics and home-soil terrorism. In The Bridge, premiering July 10, the setting is changed to the U.S.-Mexico border. This allows executive producer Meredith Stiehm, a writer-producer from Homeland, to deal with everything that relocation provides — including the white-hot issues of immigration reform and border security.

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Arts & Life
5:36 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

It's Showtime For Untested 'Ray Donovan' And Proven 'Dexter'

Michael C. Hall has played the serial killer Dexter Morgan for eight seasons on Showtime.
Showtime

Originally published on Mon July 1, 2013 10:55 am

For at least as long as there have been Fall Preview issues of TV Guide, there's been a sense of optimistic excitement about the start of new television series. But more recently, producers of long-running TV shows have injected excitement into the ends of their programs' life spans as well. By announcing, in advance, that a show is going into its final season, no matter what, it ups the emotional ante on what to expect — and, with a finite end in sight, what might happen.

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