By the summer of 2019 — exhilarating maskless days, if you can remember! — I was very much over being a TV critic. I had been one for about two decades and done everything I could possibly do by then save for writing a non-fiction book about that particular world and nothing seemed less appealing except for maybe shooting myself in the face.
I was at the top of my field, acclaimed, respected, loved, hated, maybe feared, writing about and reviewing whatever I wanted as the chief TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter and even making decent money — but it was journalism, so it’s all relative. (If you don’t know me already, I’ve included a CV below for all the details, bonafides and odd twists you’ll need.) And yet, somehow all of that didn’t provide enough depth to the feelings. That’s when I learned you can really love something but be over it — to find those elements that electrify your creative spirit in the work you’re doing but find less of them, seemingly, every day. And that’s when you know.
Like everyone else, I was thinking of writing a novel. I was also thinking about not writing a novel. Inaction is like a drug. I also considered just staying put, continuing to do the job because that seemed like what I had worked my whole life for and there was ample compelling logic to not muck up the successes of that journey.
As a writer, I was bored. Unfortunately, I can’t really do anything else — except overthink everything and get anxious and there’s not a real market for that. There’s a part of me that wished I could just learn how to make wine and be happy. Not entirely plausible, but more so than the other thing I wanted to do with my life which was to be a psychiatrist. Drinking wine and seeing a psychiatrist was, not surprisingly, the easier path, so I just did that instead of making the difficult career change my subconscious was begging me to make. Until that aforementioned summer when I asked one, then two and finally three trusted no-bullshit people in the industry if they thought my skillset could translate. You know, to something on the other side — in the business.
The answer was yes, on a couple of fronts, actually — I could have leaned into being an executive, helping someone else make a great TV show they said, but the end result, which made more sense to everybody but me at the time, was that I got a two-year, first-look development deal to write my own TV series. (Hand on a bible or non-religious artifact of your choice but I had never wanted to write a TV show — until I sat around a roaring fire pit in Big Sur that summer and thought, “Actually, hell yes I do.”) So I quit The Hollywood Reporter in November of 2019, slid into the holidays as excited as I have ever been, then rolled ambitiously into…2020.
I can tell you that writing an existential drama about happiness — yes, that’s the show I wanted to write — didn’t really fit the vibe back then (as opposed to now, where the idea seems brilliant, so maybe you’ll eventually see that show). Or, hey, maybe you’ll eventually see the comedy I wrote after that. Who knows? I don’t. What I do know — something I learned in those two years that I didn’t really think much about in all the years prior when I was reviewing television and covering the industry — is there is a fuck ton of waiting around. Especially in a pandemic. Talk about supply chain woes.
Which brings us to the now. I’m tired of waiting around. I’m still very much trying to write a series, or have someone make the ones I did write, as soon as I settle on an agent. See also: Waiting around. (There are good signs. There are also vague or misleading signs?) But I’m used to writing constantly (which is why I’m finally starting that novel, because it’s one of the few things I can actually control).
So why also start a Substack? Because until recently I stubbornly thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t be a television critic AND a television writer, like there was some holy divide, like there weren’t plenty of critics through the history of culture (literature, music, art, movies, television) who hadn’t done both. And then I realized that once again I was overthinking things — nobody really cared about this division of worlds except for me.
I got some sage advice: You’re a writer. People know you as a writer. Forget labels. Nobody cares. Just write.
As it turns out, there’s a void here on Substack for TV criticism. I look at that as an open door, just as I did when I had a chance to try something different in 2019. So I’m going to walk through it.
Tim Goodman / Bastard Machine is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
There are two clear benefits to doing this on Substack. One, I’m not looking for a full-time job, going backward into criticism as my only writing outlet again at some publication. And, obviously tied to that, I don’t have to work at another publication which would eventually create a conflict of interest — I can just use this independent publishing platform and be me. So, yay.
Is this a newsletter? A blog? A collection of essays?
It clearly doesn’t seem to matter. It’s all just content, narrative — a connection made on a new kind of independent platform. A lot of writers have migrated here, so I’m joining the movement.
Signing up for a subscription is free. I encourage you to do so now and check it out. Each week there will be quality free content sent directly to your email (if this is your first Substack, it’s designed and formatted so it doesn’t look like it’s coming from your boss or some boring friend) and also available on the Substack site. There will just be more content, more options (and more engagement) for paid subscribers. If you like what you’re reading, or feel like you’re missing out on some of the content or the community, then come on over to the pay side when and if you can.
Most Substacks are primarily based around a paid subscription. How does that benefit me? Well, nobody pays you for waiting around. While there’s a lot of positivity about the TV writing I’ve done, and that’s exciting and keeps me hopeful, I’m also not naive: Maybe none of it gets made. I’ll keep developing ideas in the meantime, keep writing scripts (although writing a book is currently more intriguing since I already have scripts). Again, I took that leap of faith in 2019 knowing that switching careers had risks. I wouldn’t change anything, because the experience has been enormously satisfying. But making a living in the meantime isn’t a bad thing, either.
What will you get and how much of it will you get if you subscribe?
Here’s an example:
TV CRITICISM, with a slight twist: basically I only want to focus on shows I like (present and past) — great shows, good shows, intriguing shows, ones I would recommend but are still ripe for deconstruction (what makes them great?; what dubious decisions were made and why?; how do those choices land with different audiences?; can the show get even better and in what ways?; how would I have done that differently given the chance, etc.). Basically, I don’t want to waste time talking about bad television. There’s a lot of it. But there’s so much great TV — series that are current, recent vintage ones that you may have missed and some older series that are ripe for a second exploration. There will be plenty to talk about — and that’s the main content here. Think of it as curated criticism — an idea I floated in 2017 as the future of “Peak TV” criticism (and something I’ll revisit in an upcoming essay). But yes, reviews, discussions, the whole deal. Oh, and I’m going to periodically fire up the TV Talk Machine podcast.
THE BOX SET. Since television has always been our shared cultural experience — and since there’s been some clamoring for this online — I thought starting a kind of TV club where we watch together and I deconstruct the episodes and we have a conversation about what everyone thought (what worked, didn’t, writing, directing, casting, etc., each episode) would be a lot of fun. (A lovely Twitter follower came up with the name when I put it out there that “TV Club” was a boring title and, after a lot of really excellent suggestions, this seemed best). My guess is that we’ll have at least two or so threads going at a time — meaning two or more shows to watch/discuss. You’ll see after an upcoming post how I think the landscape in TV has changed and being immediate doesn’t matter as much. So, we can start with series that are fully available to stream, plus as new ones launch and maybe go back to a classic. I’m sure we’ll figure out the mix and what works best for you and me as we dive in. Hell, we could even do one-off episodes — certain classic or controversial/problematic/debatable episodes from series we all know; just one, a deep dive/deconstruction and a thread. Sounds fun. We did a little bit of this on the TV Talk Machine podcast in the past but with Substack’s reader engagement we can just make it more personal.
TV WRITING/FICTION WRITING: The personal part of a blog is really what has driven so many writers, from what I can tell, to Substack, to connect with readers. It's a thing I miss dearly. So some of the stuff I write about will derive from the career change I made, how it’s going, frustrations and elation in the process, ideas I’m exploring in my writing; breakthroughs, setbacks, mid-day mind-fuckery, late night ramblings, who knows? I can tell you that the process of spending two years trying to hear, understand and translate the creative frequency in the cosmos of my brain and create fictional worlds from it has been a trip. I’d like to share some of it.
EXISTENTIALISM AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS: Speaking of which…These are the things I write about. These are the things I’m most interested in addressing. If we don’t think about them, what’s the point of anything? Of course, discussions of existentialism and happiness can be standalone essays or woven into discussions of TV or culture or…I don’t know, “Drive to Survive: Formula One,” on Netflix? (It’s actually perfect).
MUSIC. Oh, you didn’t know I was a music critic (twice!) before becoming a TV critic? I know, I know…It’s kind of weird to have both on the resume (plus I was a media critic!) — it’s all so much critical mass. A short story: I was going to write a book of music essays. I discussed this with lots of people, including a publishing house. I paid a former student of mine — I was a senior adjunct professor at the California College of Arts — to help me build a website. I kept it under wraps and waited for the right time to launch it — which seemed to be late 2019 while having a development deal to keep me afloat. Perfect, right? Nah. I got so absolutely absorbed in writing fiction that I lost all interest in non-fiction. I think I posted five essays — but, again, it was the pandemic and I thought I was going to die (plus the fiction honing thing…). I just killed that website entirely to focus on this one. (But I am going to revise and move some of the past essays here). I love all kinds of music. You’ll be able to hear what I’m writing about immediately (via your Spotify account) and sample whether you like it or not. Or skip it. That’s what I mean about a diversity of content and multiple posts. There should be something for you whenever you check in.
CULTURE: (Yes, I know music should fit here, too, but few things move me like music, so I’m hoping to delve a bit more there.) But you can also expect posts about books — who doesn’t love books? I’m even writing one, you may have heard. (Not only that, but my good friend Peter Carlin, the NYT bestselling music biographer, recently wrote a book called “Sonic Boom: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, From Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac, Madonna to Prince” and we are going to try to turn that into a TV series — you know, without the long title. Other culture topics that are a strong part of my everyday life that I’ll periodically write about: wine, the creative process, architecture + design and even people (I like interviewing creative and interesting people, have done it my whole career and I’m good at it). Plus: other beautiful and random things. I’m a believer in the “one beautiful thing a day” movement where you take stock and appreciate what’s around you. Oh, and I said there’s a podcast, right? Welcome to my multiverse.
Tim Goodman / Bastard Machine is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber
Paid subscriptions are $6 a month or $60 for a full year. The Box Set will kick off with a series of shows/topics that are free, then eventually shift over for paid subscribers, as will most reviews and series deconstructions, but there will definitely be those that remain free. The TV Talk Machine podcast I’ve done for years with Jason Snell will come off of hiatus and stay free (great Clash song, btw).
There are plans to branch out and do more audio for paid subscribers — separate, show-specific podcasts (probably under a different title than TVTM), readings, messages, hopefully some interviews, perhaps even some video, — it will evolve, as these things do, based on what the interest level is from you (and I guess me) but I can promise you there will always be consistent content. Yes, I’m taking it very seriously even while keeping up with my other writing.
And don’t worry, if a few of those categories above become a big passion for me but not for you (I’m not saying I’ll write a ton about wine or architecture + design, but, gasp, what if I did? — you could elect to not receive email newsletters about those topics. It’s really up to you which parts you want to follow.
You might be thinking, well, that all seems a little ambitiously broad, Tim, can you pull off that content? “Yes, you can radiate everything you are,” according the lyrics of a song in a certain landmark documentary that just got released. But check the CV below and look for the weirdest part (OK, hint, it’s this: I was a golf writer for South African Sports Illustrated…I contain multitudes, people.)
Love to your mothers,
You can follow me on Twitter: @BastardMachine and Instagram timgoodman/BastardMachine
The TG CV
From 2010 to the end of 2019, Tim Goodman was the Chief Television Critic of The Hollywood Reporter. Prior to that he was the Television Critic at the San Francisco Chronicle from 2000 to 2010.
He taught in the Visual Studies department at the California College of the Arts as Senior Adjunct Professor from 2006 to 2020. Prior to that, he taught a semester of Criticism at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
His work is frequently quoted and has been referenced in many media outlets such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Huffington Post, USA Today, Forbes, Time, BBC News, Reuters, BBC Radio, The Guardian, Mediabistro, The Week, Yahoo.com, NPR.org, etc.
Present: Writer. “Adjust Your Priors.”
1997 to 2000: Television Critic, San Francisco Examiner.
1999 to 2011: "KFOG Morning Show" (104.5 FM, San Francisco), regular Monday guest.
2001: Fringe Golf magazine: Regular contributor, columnist.
1998 to 2000: South African Sports Illustrated, golf writer.
2015: National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, 1st Place, Critic, Online.
2014: National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, 1st Place, Print Columnist.
2013: National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards: 1st Place, Commentary, Analysis, Trend, Online.
2012: National Journalism Awards: 2nd place, Critic, Print.
2012: National Journalism Awards: 3rd place, Critic, Online.
2006: "Best TV Critic In the Country," media website Newsblues.com.
2005: Best San Francisco Chronicle columnist, voted by SF Weekly.
2003: Herb Caen Memorial Award, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, 1st Place.
2003: Peninsula Press Club, Entertainment Reviews, 1st Place.
2001: "Best TV Critic In the Country," media website Newsblues.com
2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014: Featured moderator for numerous panels and interviews at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).
2018, 2016, 2015: Moderator, multiple panels at the ATX Television Festival in Austin.
2014: Panelist, ATX Television Festival.
2017, 2015: Moderator/interviewer for a series of Master Class sessions at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada.
2018, 2017, 2016: Member, Nominating Committee: Breakthrough Series — Long Form, Gotham Awards, Independent Film Project, New York.
2015: Inaugural member of the Nominating Committee for the Gotham Awards from New York's Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) as it ventured into television.
2014, 2013, 2012: Select panel member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, described as “the country’s most prestigious television critics.”
2012 to 2018: Ongoing judge for the Critics Award at the New York Television Festival.
2011: Jury member, the American Film Institute’s Television Awards (inaugural jury member, 2001).
2006: PEN USA judge, TV Screenplay category.
2017: On stage interview, Ricky Gervais, 92nd Street Y, New York.
2016: On stage interview, cast of “The Americans,” 92nd Street Y, New York
2016: Moderator, on-stage interview at SF Sketchfest with the cast of “Bob’s Burgers.
2015: Moderator, on-stage interview at SF Sketchfest with the cast of “Veep.”
2012: On-stage interview with Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Arts & Ideas lecture series at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.
2011: On-stage interview with David Simon, creator of The Wire, Treme, Arts & Ideas lecture series at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.
2010: On-stage interview with Matt Weiner, creator of Mad Men, Arts & Ideas lecture series at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.
2008, 2007: Self; Featured guest/interview subject, Arts & Ideas lecture series at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.
2006: On-stage interview with Stephen Colbert, San Francisco City Arts & Lectures.
2006: On-stage interview with Amy Sedaris, San Francisco City Arts & Lectures.
2008: BBC Radio interview, "For the Love of Pod," after creating the first TV podcast for an American newspaper in 2007.
2007: Freedom Forum quote for First Amendment calendar: "Ratings make a whore of journalism pretty much every time."
2006: Dwell magazine (October); featured "expert" interviewed about chair design.
2006: Oakland magazine (October) interview, "Mr. Cranky Pants: Not So Cranky After All."
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