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Slate's Surfergirl: A TV Guide for Women Only

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And for those of you who prefer eating in private, perhaps in front of the TV, there's a new magazine. Slate television critic Dana Stevens has this review of TV Guide's latest offering, a glossy weekly designed for gender-specific vegging out.

DANA STEVENS (Slate): Inside TV, a new weekly magazine from the publishers of TV Guide that just hit the newsstands last month, is marketing itself as a TV Guide for women. More specifically, in the words of one press release, `a bright, upbeat, in-the-know weekly that reflects how the new, independent, intelligent young woman of today watches TV.'

The most obvious question raised by the appearance of yet another full-size, glossy, celebrity-centric weekly on the newsstands is: `Why on Earth do women need their own TV Guide?' The almost-as-obvious answer is that young women don't, at least not as much as TV Guide needs them.

TV Guide is the most widely read weekly magazine in the United States, but it's also in rapid decline. The now 52-year-old magazine has an aging and, by the brutal standards of marketing research, relatively poor reader base. TV Guide subscribers also tend to be analog rather than digital. They're less likely to get their information online or take advantage of new television technologies like TiVo.

So TV Guide Publishing Group has chosen to cut TV Guide loose, letting it die out slowly along with the generation currently reading it. The new version, Inside TV, will mimic the publishing industry's latest gold mine, celebrity weeklies.

Inside TV is not really a TV Guide so much as an annotated digest of one. The first 50 or so pages consists of standard sycophantic celebrity profiles and semiblatant product placement. The back of the book consists of a week's worth of selected program listings. The female-specific features include quotes from TV hunks about what they're seeking in a woman. There's also a guide to children's programming whose title I love for its candid admission that, yes, the TV keeps kids occupied--You got a problem with that? It's called TV Sitter.

When you get right down to it, the idea of marketing a TV Guide specifically to women is a deeply depressing one. By subdividing households by gender, it turns the alienating practice of television-watching into an even more solitary pastime, turning the TV into a kind of surrogate husband. The magazine's publisher writes in a press release that today's woman doesn't just watch TV; she has a relationship with it. And in the closest thing I've seen to a statement of Inside TV's editorial policy, executive editor Debra Birnbaum writes in the first issue, quote, "That's why we've created this magazine, to celebrate the stars and the shows we invite into our homes every week and to fill in the void before their next visit."

Of course, the void Inside TV is most interested in filling is the one created by the loss of TV Guide's advertising dollars. We'll see whether a gender-specific television magazine will make female consumers feel pampered or just patronized.

BRAND: Opinion from Dana Stevens, Slate's television critic.

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BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dana Stevens