Emily Nussbaum has acted as The New Yorker’s television critic since 2011, primarily contributing to the magazine’s “On Television” columns. At The New Yorker, she’s covered everything from Ryan Murphy’s body of work, to the history of television advertising, to musician Fiona Apple.
Before that, Nussbaum served as the editor of New York Magazine‘s Culture Page for seven years. She developed the magazine’s Approval Matrix, a weekly and “deliberately oversimplified” visual guide to pop culture news.
In 2016, Nussbaum won the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for her work as a television critic and historian. Nussbaum published her essay anthology, I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through The Television Revolution, in 2019 via Random House.
Recorded remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, NPR’s Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton talk to Nussbaum about entertainment in the age of social distancing and the history of reality television. Later, Nussbaum takes a quiz on famous quotes throughout reality show history. Then is challenged to a game where TGIF meets the KGB in a music parody game. She identifies classic sitcom theme songs rewritten to describe modern prestige dramas.
On Tweeting Through Her Recent Self-Quarantine
(In March 2020, Nussbaum tweeted about self-quarantining after showing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. She has since tested negative for the coronavirus.)
“I felt like there was this awkward moment that was a little bit early in the process where people were uncomfortable talking about having symptoms and what was going on. I wanted to create a conversation, which is what Twitter is for, but I am not an expert on this. I’m a TV critic who had a fever.”
On Alternating Between Tonally Disparate Shows
“I like this idea of medicinally combining shows. I used to have this thing where I’d watch The Americans and then watch Broad City afterwards. I was like, this is like a great cocktail — an incredibly moving and bleak show that’s devastating and then this kind of twisted, funny, joyful comedy. I think that’s what you should do, not just find the right show but find the right combination of shows.”
On Reality TV
(Nussbaum is currently writing a book on the history of reality television.)
“The book itself is going to be about the creation of what is hard to not acknowledge whether you like reality [television] or not — this incredibly vibrant, important, unbelievably influential genre in American pop culture and worldwide pop culture. …I think [reality TV] has been put in this position where people are aware of it but there is no history to it. That used to be true of TV but now it’s less and less true. Everyone has their hobby horse and this is mine.”