TV criticSteven Scheuer

Starting out as an assistant director for CBS, Scheuer saw a real problem in the early years of television, when shows were often broadcast live. “You were told on Thursday by a newspaper critic that there had been an interesting program on Tuesday,” he said later. “It was absolutely clear to me that the whole approach to TV criticism was backward.” Scheuer had a better idea, and in 1953 he quit his job to pursue it: he went to the rehearsals for those live TV shows, and wrote quick reviews that appeared in the paper the morning before they went on the air. That way, viewers would know what looked promising. And if nothing did? Scheuer told the truth. “This is the right evening to catch up with a good book or a good movie,” he might say in his column, called TV Key. The approach was an instant hit, and his column was syndicated nationally. By 1957, Time magazine called him “the nation’s most influential TV critic.” The TV networks welcomed him into their studios. “I had immediate access to the giants,” he said. “It was a heady trip for a 26-year-old.” If he couldn’t make it to a rehearsal, the network would send him a script for the show. Later, Scheuer came up with another new idea: brief “capsule” reviews of movies — not just current ones, but older movies too: the ones that might appear on TV. “His book was the first of its kind and very useful,” says movie critic Leonard Maltin. When Signet asked Maltin to write a similar book, it was “meant to be a rival” to Scheuer’s book, Maltin admits. Scheuer died May 31 from congestive heart failure at his New York home. He was 88.

From This is True for 8 June 2014