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

Next? Cubs sweep Pirates out of PNC Park

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Next? Cubs sweep Pirates out of PNC Park

PITTSBURGH – Next? The Cubs just dominated a Pittsburgh Pirates team that’s won 280 games and made three playoff appearances across the last three seasons, showing they’re so much more than a good-looking team on paper and baseball’s goofiest clubhouse.

Joe Maddon’s “Minimalist Zany” road trip ended with Wednesday afternoon’s 6-2 win at PNC Park, the Cubs finishing off the three-game sweep before changing into the leopard pants, plaid coats and Stars and Stripes outfits required for the flight back home to Chicago and a showdown against the Washington Nationals.

The Cubs spent close to $290 million on free agents after beating the Pirates in last year’s National League wild-card game, budgeting for the natural improvement from their young players and the experience gained during that playoff run.

The Cubs outscored Pittsburgh 20-5 during what was supposed to be three tension-filled games, bumping their run differential to plus-93 for the season. Did the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals do enough to keep up in the Central? Is this really the game’s toughest division? Still see you in October?

The Cubs are getting contributions from all over their roster. Ben Zobrist – who took over right field while Jason Heyward rested his sore right wrist – blasted a three-run homer off Juan Nicasio in the third inning. Javier Baez went 3-for-5 with two RBI and put on a defensive clinic during this series. If not for Jake Arrieta’s historic run and Cy Young Award encore performance, more people would be talking about Jon Lester’s fast start, improving to 3-1 with a 1.58 ERA after 5.2 scoreless innings. 

At 20-6, the Cubs have the best record in baseball, a six-game lead over the Pirates in the division and a four-game series against the Nationals that begins Thursday night at Wrigley Field. Maybe that will create some buzz.

It means the return of Dusty Baker – no manager has pushed the Cubs farther or closer to the World Series since 1945 – and side-by-side comparisons of Boras Corp. clients Max Scherzer ($210 million guaranteed) and Arrieta (the meter is still running).   

Plus the friendly rivalry between Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, the league’s reigning MVP and Rookie of the Year who grew up together in Las Vegas playing with and against each other.

And Jonathan Papelbon, the eccentric closer the Cubs tried to trade for last summer before the Nationals flexed their financial muscle (only to watch it sabotage their clubhouse without the buffer zone of ex-Boston Red Sox players the Cubs could have created).

“It’s just so much fun to play good teams,” Maddon said. “You get them on the field and then you look out there from the dugout: How do we stack up? What does this thing feel like? You look on TV, you read different things, but you got to actually see it.”

The rest of the baseball world is just beginning to see what this sleeping-giant franchise could become. 

Spartans land UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter

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Spartans land UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter

Tom Izzo got some help for his diminished front court Wednesday.

UNLV graduate transfer Ben Carter announced on Twitter that he will be using his final season of NCAA eligibility at Michigan State.

Carter, a 6-foot-9 forward who will be immediately eligible, played his first two seasons of college basketball at Oregon before transferring to UNLV. He sat out the 2014-15 season before averaging 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds in 22 games for the Runnin' Rebels last season. He made seven starts and averaged 24 minutes a game before a January ACL tear ended his season.

Carter wrote an open letter published on RunRebs.com explaining his decision to transfer away from UNLV, citing the program's recent coaching change, replacing former head coach Dave Rice with Marvin Menzies.

From Carter's letter:

"I’ve dedicated my whole life to being a basketball player, and I only get one more season of college basketball to get it right. I needed a program that could give me an opportunity to achieve my dreams."

...

"When I really thought about it, I realized how I want my college career to end. I want it to end on a ladder. I want to stand on a ladder, cut down a piece of a net and look into the stands and see my father. I want to share that moment with him."

...

"This is not an easy decision, but I truly believe Michigan State is the right decision for me. During this process, I’ve gotten to know and respect Tom Izzo, and playing for one of the most legendary coaches in college basketball history will be one of the greatest experiences of my life. And with everything I’ve been through in my career, I couldn’t pass up the chance to play for a team with real national championship hopes."

Izzo and the Spartans could certainly use some help in the front court after the graduation of Matt Costello, who was an All-Big Ten selection last season, and Deyonta Davis, who is off to the NBA. While Izzo is welcoming in an eye-popping recruiting class, only one of the highly ranked foursome — 6-foot-9 Nick Ward — is a big man.

Cubs vs. Nationals: Joe Maddon digs Bryce Harper’s style

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Cubs vs. Nationals: Joe Maddon digs Bryce Harper’s style

PITTSBURGH – Joe Maddon and Bryce Harper are on the same side of baseball’s culture war, even as the Cubs and Washington Nationals appear to be on a collision course toward October.   

The National League’s two best teams so far will face off on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, where Harper will be a focus throughout a four-game series overflowing with storylines.

That’s how Harper wants it, and that’s what Major League Baseball needs now, larger-than-life personalities who aren’t afraid to show some emotions and say what they actually think and try to wake up such a “tired sport.”

Harper’s line to ESPN The Magazine went viral in spring training, and it echoes when Maddon brainstorms another wacky themed road trip, trolls the St. Louis Cardinals and invites zoo animals to Wrigleyville.

So if Harper blasts a home run onto Sheffield Avenue and flips his bat in celebration, Maddon won’t have an issue with the league’s reigning MVP. The smirking Cubs manager knows it when he sees it. 

“It depends on who’s doing the bat-flipping,” Maddon said. “If you’ve played for like two weeks and you’re flipping bats, that’s how you’re going to get yourself hurt.”

Maddon rarely criticizes his own players in front of the media, but he called it a “punk move” last year when Junior Lake almost started a bench-clearing brawl at Marlins Park, flipping his bat, admiring his shot from home plate and shushing Miami’s dugout while rounding third base.   

“I just think when you’re brand new – just understand your place a little bit,” Maddon said. “That’s why I got on Junior that time. There are a lot of things that don’t bother me, (but) that was so obvious to me. He did it right in front of our dugout and he had not been playing that much. That’s why it bummed me out.

“But for the most part, I have no problem with most anything. As long as the guy plays hard, works hard, is sincere about his effort, I’m OK.”

By all accounts, that’s Harper, who’s still only 23 years old and gets similarity scores comparable to these players on his Baseball-Reference page: Frank Robinson; Mickey Mantle; Miguel Cabrera; Mike Trout; Hank Aaron; and Ken Griffey Jr.

“When he first came up, I remember watching him and he stole home on a double steal,” Maddon said. “He just ran the bases really well and hard – that was my first impression of him. I know he can hit. I know he’s got power. I know he’s got all that stuff. But I just liked the way he played.

“I have no problem with a guy enjoying playing the game. He’s got a lot of respect for the game and his place in the game. But any time a guy plays it hard, you always appreciate that. And that’s what I see with him.”

Maddon flashed back to the way Dennis Eckersley used to pump his fist after getting a big out – and his own personal history as a baby boomer raised in the 1960s and 1970s and listening to loud music and partying at his old Lafayette College fraternity house.

That’s what makes Maddon able to relate to Harper’s individual expressions, even though “Baseball’s Chosen One” was born in 1992.

“That’s the thing that we forget,” Maddon said. “That’s what’s so disappointing sometimes, growing up in the era that I did, and then you see people that are quote-unquote ‘in charge,’ and they forgot what it was like when we were a bunch of…goofballs, for lack of a better term.

“You’d like to believe that there’s a certain evolution of thinking as it moves forward. The long hair back in the day, the high stirrups, the tight uniforms, everybody has their own little shtick. So what? So what? It’s just a tendency to forget what it was like when we were growing up sometimes. I promise you I’ve not forgotten.”