5 Questions with...Tribune's Maureen Ryan

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Maureen Ryan

CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with a new weekly feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week...renowned television critic from the Chicago Tribune...a woman who is on the pulse of everything TV-related in her popular Tribune blog, The Watcher...here are 5 Questions withMAUREEN RYAN!

BIO: Maureen Ryan is the television critic for the Chicago Tribune. She was named to the post in 2006. Previously, she wrote about television, pop culture, media, the Internet and music for the Chicago Tribune.

Ryan began freelancing for the Tribune in 1992, writing about education issues and also reviewing music. Prior to joining the Tribune full-time, she worked for the magazines Chicago Enterprise and Cinescape, and she freelanced for Crains Chicago Business, RollingStone.com, the Chicago Reader, NewCity, Request and many other publications. She was also the founder and editor of the fanzine Steve Albini Thinks We Suck, which enlivened Chicagos music scene from 1994-1998.

In 2004, she started the Watcher blog (chicagotribune.comwatcher), which has become a major online destination for television fans and which gets several million page views ever year. The site has been nominated for an Editor and Publisher Espy Award and her work has been cited in Entertainment Weekly, Slate, Broadcasting and Cable and many other publications. She comments on television for NPR, MSNBC and other media outlets, and she has been a member of the American Film Institute's Top 10 TV Shows of the Year jury.

Ryan was born June 29, 1966 and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and in South Holland, IL. She graduated from Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, and in 1988, she graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in English and psychology. She received a Masters in journalism from Northwestern University in 1993.

She lives in the suburbs with her husband and her son.

1) CSNChicago.com: Mo, there have been a number of sports-themed TV shows over the years (i.e. Friday Night Lights, Coach, Arli and even Cheers with its lead character being an ex-athlete working in a sports bar). With such an enthusiastic, sports-fixated society we live in, how come there arent more scripted sports-themed programs out there or do you think Friday Night Lights is just that good that networks are afraid to challenge it?

Ryan: I think it's hard to get network audiences interested in a sports program if the public thinks the show is just about sports. I cannot tell you how many people told me, "I'm not watching 'Friday Night Lights,' it's just about football" or "'Friday Night Lights' must just glorify Texas football culture." What took people forever to understand was that it was just a drama about flawed people, some of whom played or coached sports. And as someone who likes, but is not obsessed with sports, "FNL" helped me understand why people do become obsessed with athletics, as an escape from their lives or just as a release that can be incredibly exciting.

Bottom line, I think that shows that have a sports theme are hard sells, and the hard road that "FNL" has had to travel has unfortunately not made the networks any more prone to taking risks. However, FX has commissioned a scripted series about guys who plays fantasy sports, and I may just have to let them know that if they need a consultant, my husband is available.

2) CSNChicago.com: With a new fall TV season upon us, in your opinion, what separates a good TV series from a great TV series?

Ryan: Nuanced characters and the ability to surprise me are qualities that link many of my favorite shows. "The Shield," "Lost," "Battlestar Galactica," "Deadwood," "Mad Men," even "The Office" -- they all are about people I want to know better. Not all the characters on those shows are "good" people, but I think even pretty good people have a lot of flaws. The examination of the human condition, when it's linked to some intensely engrossing stories, is a pretty unbeatable combination. And I should add that most of those shows have really funny moments. Even in the darkest hour, it helps to have the ability to laugh at yourself.

3) CSNChicago.com: Name your top three all-time favorite sitcoms and top three all-time favorite dramas?

Ryan: Oh, I didn't realize these questions would involve torture. This is going to be very, very hard, but here goes:

Drama:

"Battlestar Galactica": Hey, aliens! Spacefights! What's not to love? Seriously, this was one of the great, meaty dramas of all time, and I still find myself missing the characters from this intense and exhilarating story of survival.

"Mad Men": I know this show is all the rage right now, and for good reason. It's full of amazing performances and story twists that you never see coming. Long may it be with us.

"Lost": Over the summer, at Comic-Con, I found myself misting up as I left the last-ever "Lost" panel at the yearly nerd fest. It may have had a few creative lulls, but what show has given us so much to talk about in its too-short lifespan? I'm already dreading the last episode of "Lost." I don't want it to be over. Maybe the polar bear can get a spin-off?

Comedy:

"Cheers": Who doesn't love watching endless reruns of this show? Simply the best character-based comedy of all time.

"The Office" (US & UK versions): Ha! I snuck in two choices in the form of one! Both versions of this comedy show the most mortifying and hilarious aspects of life, not just office life. Both are classics.

"MASH": Another classic. It wasn't the same toward the end, but this long-running sitcom had a subversive heart of gold.

4) CSNChicago.com: Even though wildly-popular competition-related reality shows such as American Idol and Dancing with the Stars continue resonate with viewers, do you think reality programming in general has reached its audience interest peak yet?

Ryan: I think reality has sort of plateaued. It'll always be part of the programming landscape, but it won't take over, as some feared it would a while back. To me, it's sad that reality TV is full of so many stereotypes now (the bully, the princess, the aw-shucks guy from the hinterland). When "Survivor" burst on to the scene, it was unpredictable and full of surprising characters. Now, most reality shows are more predictable than your average police procedural.

5) CSNChicago.com: As we all love to follow your TV industry updates on The Watcher blog, were curious to know many hours a week you actually watch television and, away from your job, what are some of your other interests in your downtime when youre not glued to the tube?

Ryan: Sad to say, but I watch a lot less TV than most people think I do. I try to watch at least one or two things during the workday, but I watch the majority of shows for work at night and on the weekends (let's hear it for my husband, who has to watch some pretty terrible stuff at times, and he doesn't even get paid to). I'd say on an average day I may watch about 3-4 hours of TV, at the most. Some days it's only about an hour.

When not watching TV, I hang out with my husband and son, try to see friends and family, garden and read. I'd say my next favorite pastime is reading novels, history and graphic novels.

CSNChicago.com: Thanks Mo, we truly appreciate your time. Check back with us on Wednesday, September 30 for the next installment of CSNChicago.coms 5 Questions with...!

Ryan LINKS:

Chicago TribuneThe Watcher blog

Maureen Ryan on Facebook

Maureen Ryan on Twitter

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.

From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.

Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.

"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."

Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.

Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.

Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.

But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.

His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.

"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."

Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.

Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.

Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.

General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.

"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."

The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.

"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."

92 Days to Kickoff: Plano

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92 Days to Kickoff: Plano

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Plano

Head coach: Brad Kunz

How they fared in 2016: 7-3 (4-1 Interstate 8 Large), lost to Manteno in the 4A  opening round action.

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 25 – Johnsburg

Sept. 1 – @ Harvard

Sept. 8 – Herscher

Sept. 15 - @ Sandwich

Sept. 22 - Manteno

Sept. 29 – @ Coal City

Oct. 6 - Streator

Oct. 13 - Reed-Custer

Oct. 20 - @ Westmont

Biggest storyline: Can the Reapers reload?

Names to watch this season: Senior DB Mauricio Perez Senior DB Alec Chavez

Biggest holes to fill: The Reapers will need to replace 20 graduated starters from a season ago, and that group also included several multi-year starters for Plano.

EDGY's Early Take: The Reapers no question have work to do this summer, yet head coach Brad Kunz and staff always finds a way for Plano to compete in the Interstate 8 conference and beyond.