5 Questions with...Tribune's Maureen Ryan

5 Questions with...Tribune's Maureen Ryan
September 23, 2009, 4:00 pm
Share This Post

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