BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Was a time when TV Guide was a kind of Bible for television viewers. If you wanted to know which "Bat Channel" to tune into, it was right there in those weekly listings. TV Guide announced recently plans to transform the magazine with pared-down listings and more emphasis on celebrity. Jeff Jarvis blogs at buzzmachine.com, and worked at TV Guide as both critic and developer. He joins us now. Jeff, welcome back.
JEFF JARVIS: Hey, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff, the digest-sized TV Guide that we all remember as an iconic staple of our youth is no longer a viable business model. Why?
JEFF JARVIS: Well, the circulation has dropped from 20 million in its heyday to 9 million now, and now they're dropping it to 3.2 million guaranteed going forward. Some of that audience has died off, but a lot of that audience was junk circulation. My late father-in-law Dennis got seven copies of TV Guide every week that he didn't ask for. Now TV Guide is going to get down to a realistic circulation of who really wants to buy and read the magazine.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay now beside that though, there is a structural editorial problem, and that is that the magazine was based on TV listings, a TV schedule that in many ways, you have written [LAUGHS] again and again, again is increasingly irrelevant. Why are listings irrelevant?
JEFF JARVIS: Because you can get better listings online that you can search for, make personalized. And there's far more power than there is to an old black and white page that's hard to read as we get older. The other issue is we now can watch anything we want to watch whenever we want to watch, wherever we want to watch it, thanks to Tivo and our VCR's. And soon we'll be able to get the TV we want on our phones.
BOB GARFIELD: The new TV Guide will debut in mid-October. What are its chances surviving in a market that's already utterly glutted with celebrity news?
JEFF JARVIS: Well, having created one of those glutters in Entertainment Weekly, yes there is a lot of coverage out there. But there probably isn't one that you can really say that is about TV except, of course, Inside TV which TV Guide just started. And we do need a critical guide to tell us what's neat and what's worth watching on TV.
BOB GARFIELD: Now celebrity coverage is not new to TV Guide, it's been a stable all along. As a practical matter, has anyone really been using the listings the last three or four years?
JEFF JARVIS: I think the grandmothers of various listeners might still be using them, but that's probably about it. The idea of having listings in print is really outmoded. I saw the people who used to sit on the subways with their highlighter marking their whole week out, and their weeks are probably ruined now. But for the rest of us, it's really about a Google-fying of the world. We're going to search for what we want to watch. And then we'll watch it.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. In one word, Jeff, how would you describe a person who sits on the subway with a highlighter, going over the TV Guide for his week's activity?
JEFF JARVIS: A loyal TV Guide reader.
BOB GARFIELD: A--loser?
JEFF JARVIS: Oh no, [LAUGHS] you said it. You said it, you snob!
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHING]
JEFF JARVIS: You big media NPR snob, you!
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] That is correct, Jeff. As always, thanks very much.
JEFF JARVIS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Jarvis blogs at buzzmachine.com. [SEINFELD SITCOM MUSIC]
GEORGE'S FATHER: How do you just walk into a house and take a TV Guide? [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] How does she expect you to watch TV? Am I just supposed to turn it on and wander aimlessly around the dial? [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]