A reporter, critic, columnist, and Emmy expert at The Hollywood Reporter since January 2000, Ray Richmond is a fixture in LA's entertainment journalism community.
He writes TV- and media-focused features, a weekly column (The Pulse), and a blog (Past Deadline). He is also the author of four books.
PRWeek: You seem to wear 1,000 hats at The Hollywood Reporter. What's your specialty area, professionally?
Ray Richmond: I'm a TV critic, columnist, blogger - there's sort of a lot of slashes. I don't really cover a beat, per se. I did beat stuff before. I was at Variety for a time, 1996-99, covering local TV and cable, and I was horrendous at it. I'm not good at sniffing out stories and going to parties and trying to gauge the buzz and opinions. I'm better at making fun of the whole process.
My column, The Pulse, runs on Reuters’ wire on Tuesday. It's more or less, within reason, whatever I want to say about something in entertainment, sort of like, "Hey, I believe this so it matters, damn it." It still kind of freaks me out sometimes that, whatever I would say, that actually would merit column space, but it seems to work out so far. I'm not sure how I was able to occupy that niche, a niche that doesn't really even exist at the trades: I was able to somehow become the comic relief at places that have no comic relief.
I absolutely have to [adhere] to certain established rules of news gathering and information when I do special-issue stories and features. So I'm sort of practicing three or four different kinds of journalism in the same job, which is really kind of cool.
PRWeek: What's going on with TV? What kind of impact is new media having on viewership?
Richmond: I think the online and mobile thing is overblown. I'm sure we all will be just watching programs in a single mobile center soon enough. The TV and the computer monitor will have merged, and it will just be one entertainment center. But that hasn't happened yet. And I don't think people are going to actually become accustomed to watching TV on a 2-inch screen on a cell phone...
[Also, the networks] have discovered in their infinite wisdom that people do not tolerate reruns anymore. Reruns are verboten. So whereas it used to be 60% of the time you'd have reruns because you only could come up with 22 episodes in a season, now what they do is, they will simply take a show off the air and put something else that has first-run product to replace it. Because they find that if they show reruns, people will tune to cable or go wherever they can find fresh product. So it's incumbent on them to simply shuffle everything now for fresh product.
PRWeek: What's the downside to that?
Richmond: You have basically a viewership that doesn't know when the hell anything's on anymore. It was Monday at 9, now it's Wednesday at 8, and tomorrow it'll be Saturday at 10. Basically the problem with the way television is now is, it's a medium of habit. You build habits: I know Sunday night at 9, I'm watching The Sopranos on HBO. But if you don't leave something where it is and know it's on, invariably your ratings suffer. People get confused and just say screw it -- they'll go surf online, they'll go read a book, whatever. I think what TV now has to do is figure out a way to ingrain habits again, breed loyalty. We're in a shakeout phase now. We're in-between people still watching things exclusively on their TVs, and things moving online. And so until it really happens in a full-scale way, there's going to be some confusion, and viewership is going to be more fragmented to more places than ever before.
PRWeek: What's exciting about TV these days?
Richmond: We're really in kind of a golden age for hourlong drama as far as prime-time entertainment. It's sort of a down cycle for comedy, but as far as hours, we've never had better quality and just more variety, more sophistication than we have now... the people that dismiss TV as "all TV sucks" - it simply isn't true. There is great, great product on TV and the people who say there isn't aren't paying attention, or are snobs, or just don't get it.
I also have to believe that 90-95% of the people who watch TV are not offended by bad language, do not worry that the government needs to be the babysitter for their kid. Parents are perfectly able to monitor their own child's viewing habits, and if they're not then they're not good parents. So the issue of worrying about FCC crackdowns and the content police: If I was a creator, I would be worried a little bit about that. There's some real hypocrisy there, especially as we head close to an election. People feel the need to monitor [TV], and act as the moral conscious and the moral arbiters.
PRWeek: Should there be any kind of organized control of TV content?
Richmond: There's an amazing, democratic way of deciding what should be on TV that we have: It's called the remote control. If people don't like [a program], and it's unacceptable, they won't watch it, and it will go away. That's what's great about television: It's utterly democratic in what survives and what dies, and it need not be dependent on anyone spoon-feeding us morality in order to make it work. It's not like I'm saying anything goes -- no. You probably shouldn't show nudity on channels early in the evening. It's also up to parents to have restrictions, and put holds on channels that their kids shouldn't watch.
PRWeek: What kind of relationship do you have with PR professionals now?
Richmond: Generally I have a really nice back-and-forth with publicists, and if I don't have time for the people I know, I have shorthand where I talk to them later. And a lot can be accomplished in email now, to save time if you're on deadline. But as long as someone's respectful of my time, they can send me anything they want and it's fine. If they're just honest with me, you know, "Hey I'm pitching x client for the Emmy's -- do this one for me and when I can get Chris Rock down the road or whatever we'll do that." A little one-hand-washing-the-other, that's the way it's supposed to be … If I say no, that's that. But if you're honest with me, the odds are I'll try to find somewhere for it as long as it's semi-useful.
PRWeek: Do you have any advice for people looking to get into entertainment journalism or publicity?
Richmond: The first thing I always tell classes when I talk at colleges is, do not ever put information above people. Don't screw anyone over. If you don't screw anyone over and have a good reputation, you'll always be able to work in this business.