2008 was a tough year for TV critics. Many were re-assigned or lost their jobs altogether, caught in the squeeze of higher newsprint costs, lower advertising revenues and the apparent generational shift away from daily newspapers.
Roger Ebert suggested in an article a month ago that film critics–also dropping like, well, canaries–were the “canaries in the mind shaft,” the first to go and a sign of the imploding newspaper business. TV and film critics are birds of a feather and both are on the endangered species list.
Not to suggest that critics are alone in this career crisis. The demoralizing media site “Paper Cuts” calculates that there have been 15,586+ jobs lost at American newspapers in 2008. Everybody says things are better here, but if you count up the Sun Media, Canwest and TorStar reductions in 2008, the Canadian total must approach the usual 10 % of the U.S. staff reductions. Some terrific TV critics have also passed away in 2008. Starweek’s Eirik Knutzen was saluted in an earlier post here. The great CBS and New York Magazine voice John Leonard was also silenced, as was press tour legend Jerry Krupnick.
A friend wrote yesterday to let me know of another passing: Glenn Esterly (above and below; photos courtesy John Keyes). That name might mean something if you subscribed to TV Guide Canada in the ’80s and ’90s. Esterly was a frequent contributor. A native of Minnesota, he died last month in Los Angeles. He was 66.
Here is an obit posted at thefrontpageonline. Read it if you knew Glenn, although it is a damn sad read. Another tribute, from colleague Ari L. Noonan, appears here. Glenn would have appreciated this passage:
A Middle Westerner by birth, which makes one solid statement about his values and personality package, he broke into journalism by reporting for a wire service, in the Dakotas, I believe. That is like constructing a newspaperman out of cement. For pure solidity, Glenn is unsurpassed.
Noonan nails Glenn’s sparse writing style here:
He wrote as if he were double-parked. A journalism teacher could formulate a semester’s syllabus around Glenn’s writings. I must have hoarded all of the florid writing and colorful adjectives on the planet because I don’t remember that he ever used an adverb or an adjective, much less a dangling participle. No one had to use a broom or shovel after Glenn had written. His pieces were tidy, and, best of all, accurate and proportionate.
As TV Guide Canada’s voice in L.A., Glenn wrote some terrific profiles of Hollywood celebrities. One feature on Robert Pastorelli (Murphy Brown’s live-in house painter Eldon) was a real hair raiser. Esterly got him to confess a crazy out-of-body near death experience that I wish I could link to here.
Glenn had that soft-spoken way that allowed for confessions. He had a halting way of speaking, almost as if he was editing in his head the same way he did at a keyboard.
Glenn used to live in Hollywood, not far from Griffith Park. He had a bulletin board in his office I’ll never forget, one that should be in the main foyer of every journalism school in North America. On it was pinned dozens of rejection letters, from some pretty impressive publications: Playboy, Esquire, The New Yorker. He could have papered his walls with the stories he did sell, but he chose to remember the ones that got away. This business was all about if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, and Esterly was humble enough to remind himself of that every single day.
He was also somebody who won and lost a fortune at the track and in the stock market. He sometimes seemed a little shell-shocked, like he had survived a world of pain. What ever he was carrying around, it seemed to give him tremendous insight and empathy when he interviewed celebrities and when he told their stories. Glenn always dug a little deeper, tried to get under their skin.
All these encounters are so short, we only get a snapshot of people and then we try to process their lives in a thousand words. Glenn didn’t waste any, and left you richer for the experience. I think he sometimes wrote things about people that they didn’t even know about themselves.
UPDATE: Glenn’s friend and former boss John Keyes, a former TV Guide Canada editor who kindly provided the photos, takes strong objection to the Ari Noonan posting linked to here. Keyes’ point is that Esterly was no hermit, and was in fact warm and sociable among friends. That’s the Glenn I remember, and John knew him much better than I ever did, so point taken and posted.