5 Questions with...Tribune's Maureen Ryan


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:


"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?


"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...!


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Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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