The single biggest inspiration on not only this blog, but anything I have ever written outside of the music umbrella, has been, without any question whatsoever, Lisa De Moraes, the TV columnist for the Washington Post. And if you are one of the dozens (dozens!) who have ever managed to stumble across this thing, there should be absolutely nothing surprising about that statement. From day one, I have consistently praised her, linked her stories, ripped her off, called her “the greatest writer in the universe,” and personally pored over every single thing I could get my hands on that had her name attached to it.
And that’s why an email I received last Monday, hours before I was set to cover my first South By Southwest, consumed every tiny part of my mind until the moment I realized that my hotel outside of Austin was located in the center of a gang-populated war zone and there was a good chance I wouldn’t even make it out of Texas alive. The note read as such:
Without intention of bringing you down before your trip… http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/03/tv-columnist-lisa-de-moraes-to-leave-washington-post-158989.html#.UT4G5B9LIHk.twitter
My three-word response? I now cry.
I was only half-joking.
After 15 years at the newspaper, Ms. De Moraes announced last week that she will be leaving theWashington Post in May to be closer to her husband, Jeff Copeland, who is the senior manager of content production at something called Dex One, located in the sunny, warm and noticeably far-away state of California.
“My husband is based in L.A., and I’ve decided I don’t want to do the bi-coastal thing anymore,” De Moraes told Politico. “I’m moving to Los Angeles so I can live with my husband.”
For some reason — and I really can’t explain why — the statement genuinely shocked me. Since I moved to Maryland a little more than two years ago (in part, by the way, because I knew I would then be able to actually read her work in print consistently), her Washington Post TV column has been the single thing that has kept my head straight, my attitude bearable and my desire to keep this blog in tact.
Having a bad day? Give me the Style section. Feeling a little unsure about myself? Look on the paper’s website and search for the daily updates she sometimes files as a precursor to the next day’s printed product. In desperate need of a laugh to break the monotony of a newspaper life? She has been the single writer in the history of the medium that has made me chuckle out loud not once, not twice, but … well, you get it.
The most memorable moment of such came in September of 2012, when she wrote about Katie Couric’s return to television. Eating dinner here at the office, I came across this lead, stopped chewing, looked up from the paper and giggled for about seven minutes …
Katie Couric’s return to daytime TV began with Katie in bed, having a nightmare. She woke up with a jolt and said to someone in the next twin bed, who was buried under the covers: “Wow! I just had the weirdest dream! I left ‘Today’ to anchor the evening news and did it for five years, and then I dreamed I was going to be hosting my own daytime talk show!”
The other person disentangled himself from the bedclothes. It was — Matt Lauer! Katie’s “Today” show husband! Did you see that one coming? We sure did!
“That wasn’t a dream, and the talk show starts right now,” Matt said.
“It’s a new beginning for me,” Katie told her audience after a commercial break — now out of her jammies and in a sophisticated blue sheath and high heels. “Many of you remember I lost my husband, Jay [Monahan], to colon cancer almost 15 years ago,” Katie continued. That threw our minds back to Katie’s “Today” show Celebrity Colonoscopy lo these many years ago — in which she totally skated over the horror of colonoscopy prep, but for a good cause so we’ll forgive her — and single-handedly caused a spike in the number of colonoscopies that year.
Katie’s daughters are still young — 16 and 21 — and they were in the audience, as was Katie’s mom. “We lost my dad just a little over a year ago. Oh, and yes — I turned 55 this year,” Katie said to kick things off, looking surprisingly nervous. Not Anderson Cooper-nervous, but still, surprisingly nervous for someone who was the queen of morning infotainment TV for 15 years, and who recently looked totally in her element subbing for Robin Roberts on ABC’s infotainment series “Good Morning America” a few weeks back.
“Woo-hoo!” responded the audience to news of her age.
It was a good thing the room was empty, because the scene looked a lot like an out-take from a Subway commercial when Jared was still fat and whatever $5 foot-long he was hocking got stuck in his throat, forcing him into a state of hyperventilation that never even got close to a sound suggesting anything near laughter.
Or, in short, yeah, my reaction was embarrassing.
Still, I rushed back to my computer to send the passage to a few friends via email and if memory serves, I may have even tweeted out part of it. To me, the statement summed up precisely how fundamentally funny and subversively smart De Moraes can be. Anybody with a keyboard and an Internet connection could watch Couric’s show and spout off something sarcastic about the host and her audience, but it felt like nobody else would even have the brain power to even consider doing so by writing …
“Woo-hoo!” responded the audience to news of her age.
But that’s what De Moraes does so well. She’s biting, but she’s calculated. She’s brilliant, but she’s simple. She’s authoritative, but she’s trusted. She’s confident, but she’s relatable. Heck, I’m still convinced that my love affair for the ill-fated HBO slow-drama “In Treatment” came directly as a result of realizing she served as an Assistant Editor on the show. Because if she thought it was worth checking out, goodness, it can’t be that bad, I thought. Turns out, she was right: The thing became one of my favorite TV shows in the history of the universe.
One of the biggest thrills my tiny life has ever encountered was when she took one of my questions during her semi-annual chats on washingtonpost.com in September 2011, and actually answered it. The question? Do you think Jon Hamm or Hugh Laurie will ever win an Emmy after losing last night and “Breaking Bad” being eligible again next year? The answer? “Nope. Not ever. If that episode of ‘Mad Men’ Hamm submitted for consideration, which was designed to push all the academy members’ buttons — yes, he wept — didn’t do it, I don’t think there’s anything else to be done to get him an Emmy win. Unless he dies in some gloriously grisly fashion or something on the show…”
You see, there’s a mighty big difference between being snarky and being obnoxious and the one thing that becomes so overlooked when considering Lisa De Moraes’ work is how she never accidentally veers into the land of annoying. And that’s hard to do, friends. For years now, she’s been accomplishing as much with an inordinate amount of ease so often that it sometimes makes silly young writers like me want to simply turn off the computer and never put finger to key again if only because it reminds me of how I will never be able to walk that line so masterfully. Or, well, for that matter, even walk that line at all.
“As a former Hollywood Reporter journalist, de Moraes has excellent sources and commands a nuanced understanding of television,” Jack Shafer of Slate wrote in 2003 (link via Politico). “But while great sources are necessary for the kind of journalism she produces, they aren’t sufficient. The irreplaceable thing about de Moraes is that she’s willing to write with caustic, honest wit about a corrupt and contemptible industry that likes to pretend it is advancing art and enlightenment. Rather than encrypt her sardonic message, as most daily journalists do, hoping their enterprising readers might somehow decode the embedded truths, de Moraes writes it straight from the spleen.”
What happens next is anybody’s guess. There have already been rumors circulating that she may wind up at Entertainment Weekly, and as she indicated to Jim Romenesko after the news broke, it seems as though she still wants to write, which made me breathe at least a tiny sigh of relief. Even so, the Washington area is going to miss being the home for where readers can find that name, and the Post’s Style section is going to take what I think will be a drastic hit within its pages once June rolls around (though, as you can see I’m a bit biased, so what do I know?).
There are very few writers who produce work that becomes appointment reading, but Lisa De Moraes’ TV Column has always been that one destination on which I could lean whenever I, for one reason or another, needed the written word the most. For inspiration. For comfort. For laughs. For whatever. It’s hard enough as it is to get people’s attention in a world over-stuffed with blogs, social media accounts and insatiable desires to spread personalized commentary, but for as long as I’ve been reading and writing about television, Ms. De Moraes had mine.
And my God, she had every little bit of it.
So, good luck to you, Lisa De Moraes. Sure, this may not be goodbye, but change is imminent, and with change comes new routines and new perspectives. Here’s hoping you land somewhere that allows you to continue sharing those sardonic thoughts of yours. Here’s hoping you won’t forget about us all the way back on the east coast. And here’s hoping there will eventually be something for me to read once dinnertime comes around.