Today is a great day for readers of the Los Angeles Times, because today Mary McNamara launches her new column. McNamara, who joined the newspaper in 1990, has been bringing its readers sharp insights on culture ever since, as a reporter and assigning editor, as a television critic, and most recently as the assistant managing editor running the paper’s entertainment coverage.
McNamara’s criticism won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015, an accolade that came as no surprise to her regular readers, who relied on her devilish wit and deeply human acuity during her years in the critic’s chair. Now, McNamara will bring her pen back to our pages as a columnist. The Times asked her a few questions about what readers can expect.
Mary, you’ve been brilliantly leading the paper’s entertainment coverage as an editor for the last few years. What excites you most about returning to writing?
Um, not having to spend hours of my one and only life in meetings? Just kidding! After more than 10 years as a TV critic, it was great to take my head out of the screen for a while and look around at the larger entertainment world, and the city in which so much of it was made. And after more than two years of mostly radio silence, I have so much to say! I mean assuming I haven’t forgotten how to write anything but memos.
All the memos here at the L.A. Times now have to be Pulitzer-quality, after your run. What are the subjects and themes you’re most excited to tackle?
Arrrgghh. I was afraid you would ask that. Everyone keeps asking me, “What are you going to write about?” and I stare blankly at them and say, “I don’t know … stuff?” I will write about things that are happening, like the piece I did about the recent and most outrageous hiring of John Lasseter, and things I think are funny, like the fact that there’s a tidying-up show on messy ol’ Netflix, and people in the arts and entertainment industry I think are interesting or important, especially those people who don’t get written about a lot, and sometimes this city, how it’s depicted and what it’s really like.
Ooh, this list is reminding me just how fun it’s going to be having you at the ready to respond to all the culture world spits onto our shores.
And women, I will definitely be writing about women in the entertainment industry. I’m currently talking to a bunch of people in an effort to figure out just why the heck there are still so few women in areas like directing and cinematography. I mean, it’s ridiculous.
I look forward to you rectifying that! Do you think TV has changed during your time out of the ring? Are there shifts in that landscape you’re looking forward to chiming in on?
TV hasn’t changed so much as it has just continued to grow and Grow and GROW. Peak TV? Haha, we laugh in the face of such a term. I worry that there is too much, not because you can have too many series (is there such a thing as too many books? or chocolate bars?) but because I do fear that the streamers will wind up with a monopoly on content, and monopolies are never good, cuz, you know, the prefix mono- is rarely the harbinger of a good or interesting thing.
Monomania, mononucleosis, monotony...yeah, you’re onto something. Though there was a film called “Monos” out of Sundance that got good marks. Oh, and also some people like monogamy. How do you think being a columnist will be different from being a critic? Have you thought about how (and whether) you will temper your approach?
Ooh, monogamy. My husband is going to have something to say about that. I was going more for monochrome, etc. As for the critic/columnist thing, I am hoping I can be more engaged with readers and approach my subject in a different way. Criticism requires a certain amount of distance from the people who create, or experience, the art form, but the columnists I like best (and don’t ask me to name them!) feel more like someone who is reading the newspaper over your shoulder, or running into the room to explain why something is so great/terrible/important.
I love the sound of that. You were a master in the Olympian critic’s chair, and now it will be thrilling for all of us to see what this more intimate and engaged ground-level approach can reveal about culture and the world.
I hope I remember how to write!