There was a time, eons ago, when one simple declarative sentence could prick up ears all over Hollywood, and sometimes send shivers of fear and loathing down the whole town’s spine. It usually began something like, “Entertainment Weekly is doing a story on…”
It’s hard to imagine in 2022, in a world where print magazines seem about as relevant as ladies’ hats and men’s spats, but back in the 1990s and well into the 2000s, EW was the most powerful voice in entertainment journalism.
Everybody in Hollywood read it, from stagehands to studio chiefs, and whatever was on its covers — “Melrose Place,” “The X-Files,” “Seinfeld,” “Melrose Place” again (I think at one point the magazine did five “Melrose” covers in six months) — became the topic everyone talked about for the next seven days. And not just in Hollywood, but in what were then referred to as the “flyover states,” the regions between L.A. and New York where millions of EW subscribers waited impatiently by their mailboxes for the latest issue to arrive. (Editors used to get bombarded with letters, and later emails, when an issue arrived late.)
Back then, EW didn’t merely lead the cultural conversation, it all but invented the whole idea of conversing about the culture.
But now, after more than 30 years on newsstands, the magazine’s print edition is being killed by EW’s new owner, Barry Diller’s IAC Dotdash media group, which last year picked up EW and a few other former Time Inc. titles — like the once-great In Style, which is also going digital-only — when it bought Meredith Corporation in a $2.7 billion deal that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense after this news. Why buy something only to murder it? It’s a bit like purchasing a car and throwing away its engine because you only want the radio.
Yes, Diller will keep the magazine’s website, EW.com, up and humming, and that has some value. But it was the print edition that made the title unique and gave it leverage when negotiating with the studios and networks. It was the promise of a glossy cover, an increasingly rare enticement these days, that was EW’s greatest asset when battling its mostly online competition for access to the stars and major projects. Even today, actors still love magazine covers. So do their publicists.
I spent 22 years at EW, starting there as a staff writer a month or so after its launch in 1990. The talent I saw pass through its halls over those two decades was staggering. And I’m not just talking about the writers who would go onto fame after leaving EW — like biographer Mark Harris, Emmy-winning impresario Ryan Murphy and novelist Gillian Flynn — but an army of sharp-witted, pop culturally obsessed scribes who’ve since fanned out in an EW diaspora across the entire media landscape. There are EW alums working at The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, not to mention more than a few here at TheWrap, as well some who’ve written TV shows, movies and Broadway productions.
It could be argued (in fact, I’m going to right now) that the way entertainment news is covered today, in just about every outlet that covers it, from Gawker to Vulture, borrows heavily from EW. Not only did the magazine mainstream the discussion of subjects like weekend box office results that had previously been restricted to the Hollywood trades, it didn’t shy away from critical takes on the industry. That super savvy, smart-ass-y attitude — a voice that was compulsively earnest about pop culture but never took Hollywood too seriously — was the secret sauce that made the magazine great and that still echoes in EW’s many imitators.
Ironically, EW itself lost that voice somewhere along the line, stumbling through a decade of editorial misfires (like going monthly in 2019), brain-draining layoffs and, most recently, workplace scandals. But I like to think it could have recovered its inner snark and been a great magazine again. Because the entertainment universe we live in today, with a million apps and a zillion hours of on-demand content, could sure use a smart, snarky, authoritative pop culture bible that could be read, cover to cover, in 15 minutes in the bathroom.
EW’s final grade? That’d be an A.