The Paris Review

Television’s Status Anxiety: An Interview with Emily Nussbaum

Emily Nussbaum has always been an engaging thinker, from her creation of The Approval Matrix for New York Magazine to her truly thoughtful television criticism for The New Yorker. After twenty years of writing about television, Nussbaum remains curious about the ways in which it’s shifting, and how that impacts our culture. Her criticism often places each show in historical context, and considers what it is bringing to us that is new or different. At times in defiance of popular opinion, she will find new prisms through which to appreciate unpopular shows, or make trenchant critiques of beloved but pretentious ones. This ability won her the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2016, and it’s what makes her new book, I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way through the TV Revolution, so singular and captivating. We spoke by phone about Netflix, the legacy of The Sopranos, and how she manages to stay interested in TV.

INTERVIEWER

You were in a doctoral program, and then found your way to television criticism. Did you finish the doctorate?

NUSSBAUM

No, I did not. One of the things that I write about in the book is how when I was in graduate school, I watched and my incendiary fandom sparked a kind of intellectual change in me, and a deep interest in television as a medium. I think that a lot of TV critics have that kind of conversion story. I happened to start getting interested in television right around a moment

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