TV's bible tries to stay fresh but familiar after 40 years

April 07, 1993|By Hartford Courant

"TV Guide is still the bible of television," says Anthea Disney, editor in chief of America's largest weekly. "We're a magazine like few others."

Ms. Disney, whom Advertising Age named "Best Editor of 1992," has been making that point since her arrival at TV Guide in September 1991.

And this month offers perhaps the best opportunity. The magazine marks its 40th anniversary with an edition commemorating four decades (the '50s through the '80s) of television's "Best of the Best." (The issue hits newsstands April 12.)

"We've been around a long time and are very associated with the most popular form of popular culture," says Ms. Disney, 48, in her Manhattan office.

That familiarity, however, eventually worked against the magazine, she says, breeding a comfort level among readers that bordered on boredom.

"I think we're sort of like an old sofa, like, 'Oh, yeah, sink back into TV Guide.' I want people to start thinking that TV Guide has 40 years of history but also that it is a fresh and interesting magazine."

Politely confident and engaging, the British-born Disney (now a U.S. citizen) is a former producer of Fox Television's tabloid "A Current Affair," where she worked, as she does now, for media mogul Rupert Murdoch. A former editor of Self and Us magazines, she got her early training as a reporter on London's Fleet Street.

So it's no surprise that the Disney formula for success at TV Guide calls for a mixture of eye-catching, short-and-sweet factoid-features ("Cheers 'n' Jeers," the personality-driven "What I Watch") lively reviews and in-depth interviews.

"I think what we can do is mix up the different kinds of journalism," says Ms. Disney, who must fend off competition from newspapers that carry Sunday guides. (At its height some 10 years ago, TV Guide's circulation was about 18 million. Now it's just under 15 million.)

And TV Guide has managed to cause some minor stirs with high-profile stories on escalating TV violence and its impact on children, an examination of "fake news" and some unflatteringly close-to-the-bone cover stories on stars such as Delta Burke.

"There is that line that we sort of walk," Ms. Disney says. "It's our job as journalists to get the real story and to not just tell the story that the stars and publicists would like told. On the other hand, I don't think we're here to rake muck."

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