Rich on Leaving the Times: ‘I Was Incredibly Itchy’

Paper’s longtime op-ed columnist talks to TheWrap about his jump to New York magazine

Frank Rich, the New York Times' popular op-ed columnist, announced on Tuesday that he’s leaving the paper after 30 years for a gig at New York magazine.

Also read: Frank Rich Ditches the New York Times for New York Mag

Rich, who’s on a previously-scheduled week off from the Times, called TheWrap from the Baltimore set of “Veep” — an HBO comedy pilot starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus which Rich is executive-producing — to discuss the move.

TheWrap: When is your last day at the New York Times? And when will your last column run?

Rich: There's an internal announcement [at the Times] going about this. But I was always taking a vacation week this week. The plan was to be here in Baltimore working on the HBO pilot. So I'm going to come back and do a farewell column that will run on March 13, and then take some time off and start up with Adam [Moss] in June.

Is it fair to say you were burnt out writing your op-ed column?

I wasn't burnt out, but I was incredibly itchy. I felt much the same way when I was a drama critic [at the Times] before they gave me the op-ed column. I wanted to do something different. Of course I'll still be writing about the same passions and subjects at New York magazine as I do in the Times. But the Times created the 1,500-word form for me when I went to them. There was no other way to stretch it. And I felt it was important [to move] while I'm still enjoying this, and have not burned out.

You said you had spent the last year talking to friends inside and outside the paper about a move. Did you give the Times a chance to keep you?

I talked to them, but the truth is I've sort of done everything there. I've been an op-ed columnist. I've been a senior writer. I was a columnist for Arts + Leisure. I wanted to do something different. There was no practical way I could come up with to do that at the Times.

You said you are looking forward to "stretching the definition of a magazine column." What do you mean by that?

The interesting thing about this is, my piece in the magazine will be longer than my [Times] column, and won't look like or feel like a column, and it's going to anchor a section that will have things done, not by me, and not necessarily traditional writing. There might be documents, for instance, and we'll turn it into a package.

Do you have a name for it?

No, not that I know of. Adam might have one, but he hasn't told me yet.

What are your thoughts on the state of the American newspaper? Can we read into this move at all that you think it's a dying medium?

This shouldn’t be interpreted as what I’m thinking about newspapers. What the Times and the Journal are experiencing is so much different than a regional newspapers. It’s apples and oranges. They have a different road to hoe. I’d think that even if I hadn’t worked there. It’s the paper I spend the most time with as a reader. But every newspaper had a horrible time during the recession, and it was compounded by digitization of media. And I think the Times is doing a very good job with that transition.

What do you think about the Times’ upcoming paywall?

I’m not really sure, and I’m speaking half-cocked because I don’t really know much. But from what I’ve heard it wouldn’t have affected my column, or people who wanted to read it. It’s not going to be like TimesSelect.

What can you tell us about the HBO show you’re working on?

Armando Iannucci, the guy who did “In The Loop,” came up with a half-hour comedy called “Veep,” as in the vice president. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as the “veep.” I’m one of the executive producers. I probably shouldn’t say too much about it, but it’s in the style of “In The Loop,” and we’re down here in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. shooting the pilot for HBO. We’ll see what happens.